Earlier this month, Mitch Landrieu told the Sewerage and Water Board the city's entire drainage system is in need of an overhaul the cost of which could run into the billions of dollars. Oh, also, he said coming up with that money is going to be very difficult.
Landrieu also warned that while both the city and the S&WB have been able to dip into FEMA money and other federal funds since Hurricane Katrina, the city alone will likely have to find the money it needs going forward.This week, outgoing District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry and her replacement Joe Giarrusso spoke at a public meeting about the challenges S&WB faces. One of those challenges is they don't seem to know how much revenue they're supposed to be collecting from people now.
"This board is going to have to shoulder the responsibility of the next major thing to help this city survive," Landrieu said.
"There is no way to do this, there is zero way to do this, without a new revenue stream that comes from the people of New Orleans," he said.
One woman in the audience told Guidry that she seems to get no bills for several months in a row, then a single massive bill in a “lump sum.” Another resident said he receives his bill every month, but that “two months out of three” are an estimate, indicating that no one actually read his meter.Well here is something else. Just when you thought they needed to come up with a lot of money they don't have, it turns out they will have to come up with more money they don't have.
The high bills are the latest in a litany of failures by the agency that City Council members are continuing to learn about since its catastrophic collapse during the flooding rain last August, Guidry said. The billing software is riddled with bugs, and its implementation was “terrible,” she said. Meanwhile, turnover among agency employees is so high that she recently heard an estimate that they have 400 vacancies.
“Where this will end, goodness only knows,” Guidry said with a wry laugh. “It’s astounding. I think I’ve heard everything, and then I hear something else.”
Further, there seem to be problems now with the actual readings, Guidry said. The problem may be growing so large and so complex that a solution may not even be possible, she said.
“It does seem to me that there should be a lawsuit that comes out of this for all the people who paid too much. Some entrepreneurial attorney is going to figure it out,” Guidry said. “The Sewerage & Water Board has been in such bad shape lately that I’m afraid it’s just going to go bankrupt. I can’t sugar coat this. Everything that could be wrong is wrong.”
One homeowner said the drainage construction on Napoleon Avenue made his house "shake, shift and jump," according to a judge's ruling in Orleans Parish civil court. Another neighbor, whose house sits a few blocks from the construction on Jefferson Avenue, said jackhammers had "caused his kitchen cabinets to fall off of the wall."The lawsuit succeeded at demonstrating to the judge that the damage sustained by homes along Napoleon Aveneue was due to excessive vibrations from the construction that the Corps and S&WB contractors did not take very seriously.
They are among five homeowners now entitled to collect more than $500,000 collectively from the Sewerage & Water Board, based on a ruling handed down Wednesday (April 25) by Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Nakisha Ervin-Knott.
The ruling is from a lawsuit filed in 2015 against the Sewerage & Water Board by about 300 residents and business who claim the utility should compensate them for property damage resulting from the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, a massive regional drainage improvement undertaking that began in 1996.
The homeowners' attorneys also argued that vibrations from work sites often breached the maximum intensity allowed under the Army Corps's contracts. However, "under-reporting" data made it complicated to pinpoint exactly how many times the vibration exceeded allowable limits, Ervin-Knott found, backed by testimony from homeowners that contractor personnel tasked with monitoring vibrations were at times not present on-site. On one occasion, a homeowner said she caught a vibration monitor sleeping on the job.Back at the beginning of the Napoleon work, we were introduced to the "Silent Piler." It is a hydraulic machine that was supposed to minimize vibrations while driving metal sheet pilings into place. I know these definitely got used. I managed to get some photos of them in action. They're pretty cool, actually.
Apparently cool is different from actually quiet. Or maybe the pile driving wasn't the only source of the trouble. In any event, here is one more thing S&WB has to find "new revenue streams" to pay for. So yay.