Officials and community discuss catch basins, S&WB oversight at hurricane preparedness town hall
A town hall on hurricane preparedness featured officials discussing with community members the city’s clogged case basins and $22 million for future oversight granted to the Sewerage & Water Board (S&WB).
The town hall, organized by Senator Jean-Paul Morrell, was held on Thursday, Aug. 17, at the New Orleans Lakefront Airport. In light of the flooding that occurred July 22 and Aug. 5, Morrell prefaced the meeting by asking what the city’s flood protection would be like if a hurricane were to come.
“I realized the public has not been as educated necessarily on a regular basis, as far as what is the current status of our coastal restoration, flood protection,” Morrell said. “I reached out to the various authorities that are cast in those roles.”
Ignacio Harrouch, the operations chief of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), and Robert Turner, director of engineering and operations for the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East (SLFPAE), both gave brief presentations at how their agencies work to maintain the city’s flood and hurricane protection system.
The CPRA is a state entity that oversees inspections, operation, and maintenance in projects aimed at Louisiana’s coastal protection. Harrouch explained that they can inspect maintenance protocol during construction and provide technical assistance to partners. Turner spoke about SLFPAE’s commitment to an ever-evolving levee system, mentioning their plans for levee lifts and armoring.
After the presentations, audience members focused their questions on cleaning stuffed catch basins and the S&WB’s oversight future.
In addressing legislative holds up that has slowed the pace for receiving state funds for coastal restoration projects, Morrell said he and his colleagues have a plan for coastal restoration, but the struggle is finding the money to pay for it.
One woman questioned the planning process of drainage placement in neighborhoods in Gentilly and Lakeview. Morrell answered that these catch basin placements are more frequently involved with individual scenarios between property owners and developers.
“The answer to your question isn’t a great answer because, though there was some input by city agencies, where those drains were put in, they were put in by developers,” Morrell said.
He described the process as becoming “willy-nilly” as years went by. The woman who asked the question responded that this system isn’t working anymore, and Morrell agreed that the catch basin placement process could evolve.
In a back and forth with a resident questioning the Sewerage & Water Board’s operating can be held more accountable, Morrell mentioned his plans to introduce legislation to put City Council members back on the board of directors for S&WB.
“But I don’t think that goes far enough, Morrell added. “Honestly, there’s been a lot of conversation on the privatization of Sewerage & Water Board. That would be a disaster.”
Morrell explained that mixing privatization with an agency that oversees a community’s drinking water is the worst option people can choose.
Then a S&WB representative stated to the public the City Council’s decision to approve the spending of $22 million to address the flaws of the city’s drainage system, such as repairing 15,000 catch basins.
A Pontilly Neighborhood Association board member brought up the intense clogging of catch basins in her neighborhood, and the S&WB representative assured her that an official could attend their next monthly meeting in September to investigate.
Morell followed up saying that the city has problem with hired contractors illegally littering into catch basins. He said this happens with grass cutting frequently and that this is a Quality of Life issue adding to the flood protection problem.
“People sometimes forget you can only really clean the top of your catch basins. When certain stuff gets clogged below a certain point, you can not clean it yourself,” Morrell said.
Morrell said catch basins are one of the first flood control devices to fix and utilize at full capacity. There are 65,000 catch basins that exist in New Orleans. Local or state legislation is Morrell’s suggestion for a solution.