And you thought it was just the levees . . .
The list of things for New Orleans to worry about grew last week when flood-damaged wires sparked fires at three area pumping stations.
The pump problems were exposed when just over an inch of rain kicked the motors into action after many weeks of drought-induced inactivity.
Sewerage & Water Board officials said the salt water that flooded the pumping stations after Hurricane Katrina and stayed there for more than two weeks damaged the wiring insulation. That produced fires that burned up the three motors. Officials also acknowledged that two other pumps had previously gone up in flames.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has responsibility for repairing the pumps that, prior to Katrina, kept New Orleans dry. But the corps offered no timetable for repairing more than 60 pumps at 23 pumping stations in need of repair.
Wait, there’s more
A day after news of the pump fires broke, New Orleans learned that its sewer system is in much worse condition than most people knew. A report compiled by the Washington-based Water Environment Federation blamed the Aug. 29 flood for almost $1 billion in damage to the city’s sewer infrastructure. The tally includes seriously damaged sewage treatment plants and some 5,000 miles of cracked collection pipes.
Before Katrina, the Sewerage & Water Board had undertaken a 12- year, $900 million infrastructure upgrade in line with a federal order that the city comply with the Clean Water Act. The status of the previous work now is unclear. What is certain is that rebuilding in seriously damaged areas can’t proceed until the underground system is restored.
Welcome back, George
President Bush last week made his 10th post-Katrina visit to south Louisiana to check on our recovery. Perhaps responding to criticism that he steered clear of badly damaged areas on some previous visits, Bush this time delved into the 9th Ward and even pounded a hammer at the construction site of a new Habitat for Humanity house.
More welcome than his carpentry, however, was the President’s promise to continue pressing Congress for the $4.2 billion in Community Development Block Grants and $2.2 billion for levee repairs he has requested for Louisiana.
Show us the money
Homeowners waiting for federal help to fix their flood-damaged homes got a bit more reassurance last week that the help is in the works. Gov. Kathleen Blanco and a 17-member committee of the state Legislature came to an agreement on the Louisiana Recovery Authority’s plan for housing recovery.
Lawmakers signed off on The Road Home program after removing a provision that would have provided assistance to low-income homeowners ahead of other owners. As approved, the plan provides for up to $150,000 in federal relief to all homeowners who qualify.
“While the check is not yet in the bank, we want everyone to know we are moving as quickly as we can to get them back into their homes,” Blanco stated in a release.
The plan — and the money to fund it — must receive Congressional approval before a single dollar flows to local homeowners.
Quiet on the political front
The week was comparatively quiet, politically, as candidates who will proceed to the May 20 runoff took a breather after the April 22 primary.
Incumbent Mayor Ray Nagin and challenger Mitch Landrieu threw a few soft punches during televised interviews, but for the most part, they kept their runoff strategies to themselves.
Other runoff candidates also laid fairly low, as they geared up for another round of debates that will begin this week.