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New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu listens to Cedric S. Grant, Executive Director of Sewerage and Water Board, talk about the speed of pumping stations next to Police Superintendent Chief Michael Harrison in preparations for Tropical Storm Cindy at City Hall in New Orleans, La. Tuesday, June 20, 2017.

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON

As a City Council meeting focused on Saturday's floods was poised to begin, Sewerage & Water Board Executive Director Cedric Grant announced Monday that he plans retire this fall to avoid being a "distraction" given the questions being raised about Saturday's flooding.

In a statement released by the city, Grant said he had made misleading statements to the public about the performance of the system, based on information provided to him by the agency's staff. He did not specify what information was incorrect.

"While not the primary cause of the flooding, we now know that some pumps were not operational during the weather event and there were some power generation issues that impacted our ability to fight the flood at its highest capacity," Grant said. "And while maintenance and repairs of the power plant and individual pumping stations is expected and routine. It was inaccurate to suggest the system was operating at its maximum capabilities." 

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It’s the first time the agency is acknowledging that a power problem played a role in its failure to adequately drain the city's streets during the deluge Saturday, having repeatedly assured residents that the system worked as designed and that nothing would have prevented streets from being clogged, given the heavy rainfall.

While the agency did say on Monday that seven of its 121 pumps were out of service during the rain, its general superintendent, Joe Becker, insisted that the system was working at full capacity, and said they were off line because the agency was conducting routine maintenance, not because the agency tried to turn them on but couldn’t.

It was not immediately clear Tuesday whether power issues knocked out any of the pumps or if more than seven were inoperable.

Below is the full statement announcing Grant's restirement: 

“As was reported, on Saturday August 5, 2017, an afternoon rainstorm began at approximately 2:00 PM and over the course of four hours dropped up to 9.5 inches of rain in some parts of the New Orleans. The volume and speed of rainfall far exceeded the capacity system used to remove stormwater. Localized flooding continued until all of the stormwater was pumped out of the Sewerage and Water Board by the next morning. On Sunday, Mayor Landrieu ordered an after action analysis of the flooding that took place due to the many questions that were raised. And the Council set the public hearing for today.

It is indisputable that Mother Nature overwhelmed parts of our system with up to 9.5 inches of rain over 3-4 hours, causing major street flooding and loss of property for many citizens. These sudden deluges of rain have happened over the years and caused similar flooding, notably in May 1978 and May 1995. Independent meteorologists, experts at the National Weather Service and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers have all confirmed that areas flooded because of the amount of rain that fell and stayed over sections of the city for several hours.

Though the Sewerage and Water Board’s after action analysis is not complete and the Mayor has called for an independent, third party to do an assessment, the information I have learned over the last 24 hours indicate that some parts of our system did not operate as they should have, which is disappointing because it contradicts information that I was given to provide to the public. Our staff was not forthright, which is unacceptable.

While not the primary cause of flooding, we now know that some pumps were not operational during the weather event and that there were some power generation issues that impacted our ability to fight the flood at its highest capacity. And while maintenance and repairs of the power plant and individual pumping stations is expected and routine, it was inaccurate to suggest the system was operating at its maximum capabilities.

I came to the SWB in August of 2014 to turn it around. For over 40 years in my career, I have prided myself on being a competent manager and turning around organizations. And while we have made a huge amount of progress upgrading our physical infrastructure and transforming our internal systems, much more needs to be done to bring it to the 21st century. It was clear then and is clear now that there is a lack of confidence from the public in the system’s abilities. We cannot have that lack of confidence, which is why we are not only fixing the system every day, we are working overhaul the internal workings of the organization.

Rather than be a distraction to the hard work of fixing the system, earlier today, I notified the Mayor of my retirement later this fall. It is also clear to me that there are additional personnel actions that are needed to restore confidence in this organization. I look forward to helping our Mayor, this Council and the Board identify what specifically needs to be done to rebuild this organization and our critical infrastructure.

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