Dave: How in the world did the mayor and key leaders not know how bad things were at the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board?

Mayor and Homeland Security Chief say they didn't know there were no more backups

Dave Cohen, WWL First News early edition
August 11, 2017 - 6:40 am

The Mayor of New Orleans serves as the president of the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board.  He is also the top official in the city charged with keeping its residents, workers and visitors safe.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu, however, admitted Thursday that he was not aware how critical the situation had become with the flood control system. After learning that a fire knocked out one of only two remaining power providing turbines at the S&WB, the mayor acknowledged he was not previously aware that with three of the five turbines already down, there were no plans in place for backups.

"I have now come to learn that we don't have redundancy in place right now in the event that that turbine went down," Landrieu said.

The mayor told WWL TV, "Someone at the sewerage and water board didn't ring the bell."

Again, Landrieu is the president of the board.

He also made it clear that there had previously been no plan to provide backup power to run a significant number of pumps if the Entergy power was lost.

After the city was left with just one turbine Thursday, Landrieu and Governor John Bel Edwards said they secured delivery of 14 two megawatt generators to provide backup power.  The mayor said it was not clear the timeline for the generators to arrive and be integrated into the system, but he hoped it would be within 48 hours.

I found it surprising and alarming that the mayor had no idea how bad things had gotten.  One would think that the president of the board, the mayor of the city, would be informed that major pieces of the flood control system were offline... and there were no more backups.  

If things were so bad for so long, why did it take a crisis of this nature to get leaders to secure generators to keep pumps running in a flood... in the middle of the summer rainy season and the hurricane season?

When Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness for New Orleans Aaron Miller called into the radio station, I asked him some tough questions.

First I wanted to know if he was aware how critical the situation had become.  He admitted, like Mayor Landrieu, that he didn't know things were so bad.

"I think the mayor expressed the thoughts of all of the administration officials with this information," Miller told me.

Miller is in charge of New Orleans' homeland security.  He is the one who is supposed to protect the city from disaster, to have the plans to handle an emergency.  Miller is supposed to have the plans to mitigate crises and respond to disasters.  Like Landrieu, he was not aware of the situation.

I went on to ask him, "How did the administration not know the situation was this tenuous and this critical that if we lost one more of the turbines that we were nearly dead in the water?  How does the mayor not know that as president of the sewerage and water board?  How does the director of homeland security not know that? Who should have told you, and why didn't they?"

Miller did not answer my questions.  Instead he said the focus was on fixing the problems.   

"Now that we are aware of this, we are doing everything that we can to stabilize this and make sure that we have redundancies in place and make sure that we are in a good place, a better place moving.  That's what we are concentrated on, that's what we are focused on," Miller replied.

While urging residents to take protective actions amid the increased flooding threat, he also called for calm.

Listen to the interview with Miller:

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