UPDATE 2:40 p.m. October 7, 2017: City spokesman Tyronne Walker says 56 catch basins were cleaned by the 14 vacuum trucks Saturday before Hurricane Nate forced them to stop working.
NEW ORLEANS -- After three major drainage failures in the last three months, the city of New Orleans worked until the last possible moment Saturday to vacuum out 56 clogged catch basins and lateral drain lines, even as the outer bands of Hurricane Nate sliced across the area.
The city and its catch basin-cleaning contractor, CES, deployed 14 vacuum trucks to trouble spots where clogged drains were major contributors to flooding in recent rainstorms. CES provided 10 of the trucks and the city’s Department of Public Works, which has had trouble with its trucks recently, has four of its five units out Saturday, city spokeswoman Erin Burns said.
She said the crews were working to get as many catch basins cleaned as they can, “as long as it’s safe to do so.”
PHOTOS: New Orleans braces for Hurricane Nate
At noon, with the eye of Hurricane Nate fewer than 300 miles from New Orleans and bearing down on the mouth of the Mississippi River, a truck and crew of three workers were sucking muck out of a drain line on Vicksburg Street in Lakeview. That street is several feet below sea level and was under 2 feet of water on Aug. 5 as area pumps didn’t run for hours after the rain fell.
The city has not been able to keep up with catch basin cleanings, usually getting to fewer than 4,000 of the 68,000 each year. The Department of Public Works was spending less than $3 million a year on maintenance prior to 2015, then poured $22 million into emergency catch basin work after the Aug. 5 flood.
But even that recent push has been marred.
The city had to put cleanings on hold last month as the emergency contractor, RAMJ, was not properly disposing of the sludge and trash they collected. The city turned back to CES at that point, a company with its own fleet of vacuum trucks it already had under contract for catch basin work.
The city attorney said a company that had the initial low bid for the work and was passed over has indicated it may sue the city over how it awarded the contract.