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S&WB assures neighbors it's investigating oily residue falling on them

Neighbors told WWL-TV they have been finding the residue whenever Turbine 5, a 58-year-old, oft-broken turbine, is running.

NEW ORLEANS — Sewerage & Water Board leaders met with agitated neighbors Tuesday who live across from the agency’s decrepit old power equipment at its Carrollton Power Plant, and the officials promised to find out why an oily residue has been falling on their homes, vehicles and gardens.

It’s been over a month since the state Department of Environmental Quality reported a leak in one of the old power turbines. The DEQ report said a turbine operator found a leak in Turbine 6, the newest of the agency’s five turbines used to run water and drainage pumps across the city.

But last week, neighbors told WWL-TV they have been finding the residue whenever Turbine 5, a 58-year-old, oft-broken turbine, is running.

Sewerage & Water Board Executive Director Ghassan Korban and General Superintendent Ron Spooner met with about 10 neighbors on Spruce Street and told them all signs point to Turbine 5, not 6.

“The fact of the matter is we don't know the source of the pollution,” Korban said. “We suspect that it is us. We suspect it's one of our equipment, mainly Turbine 5. We are going to initiate an investigation to determine if that is indeed the source of the pollution and what we can do about it.”

Korban asked neighbors for patience as the agency waits for the turbine’s manufacturer, General Electric, to send crews to inspect the inside of the turbine with special video equipment. He and Spooner said that could take 60 to 90 days, but they are pressing to get a specialist here from GE as quickly as possible.

The neighbors who live across Spruce Street are fed up because they’ve seen hundreds of millions of dollars spent over the last decade on modernizing the power equipment, only to see the turbines repeatedly fail.

A total failure in March 2017 led to widespread flooding in August of that year. Emergency funds were used to install new electro-motive diesel backup generators, or EMDs, but as the larger Turbines 4 and 5 broke again and again, the agency had to use the EMDs as a front-line source of power for drainage during storms and they create ear-splitting noise at all hours.

In December 2019, Turbine 5’s massive exhaust stack exploded, rocking the neighborhood and blowing out windows. The agency originally planned to retire Turbine 5 for good, but then changed course and rebuilt the stack in 2021.

So, the oily droplets are just the latest issue where the neighbors feel the Sewerage & Water Board has ignored their plight.

Korban said he met with neighbors Tuesday to show them he takes their concerns about pollution seriously while also trying to balance the need to produce power to keep the city dry and the drinking water safely flowing to all New Orleans residents.

He said the only way to do that is to build a new substation to get more reliable electricity from Entergy New Orleans and to install a brand-new Turbine 7 to replace Turbine 5.

That won’t happen until 2023 at the earliest.

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