Cedric Grant gets a raise in his new job, but that still might not be enough to justify congratulations when you see him. Maybe commiseration might be better for the huge task awaiting the New Orleans Sewerage and Water Board.
As Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s top aide for building projects — and the mayor’s representative on the board — Grant is certainly aware of the scope of the challenges awaiting the agency he now heads.
At Landrieu’s behest, the agency has a revamped board structure. The City Council has backed the fee increases needed to bring in revenues for the day-to-day operations and repairs needed for the agency.
Yet, with about $3 billion in construction projects ahead, much of it funded by the post-Katrina money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the board projects list is very long and quite complex. But that’s not all that is on the plate of the board.
With estimates of 40 percent of water pumped into its pipes lost to leaks, the embarrassment of boil-water advisories and the lengthy list of federal regulations that wrap around every project, there is plenty to keep Grant busy.
Not that he hasn’t been busy already because of road repairs and other projects underway in New Orleans during the Landrieu administration. The renovation of a few blocks at a time might include several different types of local, state and federal funding, with the city required to comply with all the regulations of the different funding sources.
Obviously, Grant’s work is not an easy assignment, but the post-Katrina funding sources provide a significant amount of cash for public works. Previously, the city might have spent $10 million to $20 million on road work in a year, and, many times, that sum has been part of Grant’s portfolio in City Hall before the sewer board job came open with the retirement of Marcia St. Martin.
The city’s long-term infrastructure needs are worrisome once the hurricane recovery funding is expended. The scope and cost of infrastructure is a problem for every city in Louisiana, if not for every city in the nation.
As roads and bridges age, as water and sewer pipes leak or fall apart entirely, the costs of repair or replacement run up, and many of the ordinary funding sources for public works are limited. It’s a challenge that, for New Orleans, should involve the best possible use of the FEMA or other federal funds while we have them.