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15,000 catch basins cleaned. Now what?

There are more than 65,000 catch basins throughout New Orleans, and without additional funding, a full sweep could take decades.

NEW ORLEANS — Contractors inspected 26,000 catch basins in New Orleans, cleaned more than 15,400 and repaired another 3,400 from 2017-2018, according to a new report from the city's Inspector General.

The report outlines a multi-million dollar program from August 2017 to June 2018, where the city of New Orleans contracted with three companies for maintenance to the aging and sprawling drainage system in the Crescent City. 

Flooding rains in the summer of 2017 prompted city officials to explore fixes to the drainage system after the power went out for major Sewerage & Water Board facilities across the city. 

There are more than 65,000 catch basins throughout New Orleans, and without additional funding, a full sweep could take decades. In 2017, DPW cleaned about 3,200 catch basins. At max, they told the city council, they could clean 3,500 each year. 

At that rate, it would take 19 years for them to clean every catch basin.

To speed the process, officials developed a large-scale cleaning and repair project. The New Orleans City Council budgeted about $18 million for the project, and the three contractors, Royal, CES/RamJ and Hard Rock, billed for about $16.5 million of that funding. 

Over the year they were working, crews inspected 26,000 catch basins. About 15,400 of the inspected basins were cleaned out by a second contractor and the third contractor repaired damage to another 3,400.

But the review doesn't lay out a perfect win for the city. Only $8.6 million was allocated to the repair of broken catch basins, and according to DPW analysts, the allocated funding wasn't enough to fix all the catch basins contractors thought needed repairs. 

And even after cleaning and repairs, the catch basins might not work perfectly.

"The underlying drainage infrastructure may be clogged and/or broken," according to the report. "Therefore, water may not drain properly through the cleaned and/or repaired catch basins, which could contribute to localized flooding."

Keith LaGrange, the director of the Department of Public Works sent a letter, attached to the report, after reading its findings. In his letter, LaGrange agreed with the findings and said the DPW would be receiving more funding in 2020. 

"DPW's annual maintenance budget will double beginning in 2020," he said. 

The added money would be used to fund additional in-house crews for cleaning and repair, meaning fewer services would be contracted out.

Specifically, he outlined a pair of drainage repair crews the department planned to hire "to address the broken subsurface lines and broken catch basins that were not addressed by the emergency program." 

The full report is available here

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