Slidell’s efforts to repair damage Hurricane Katrina caused to its streets and underground utilities took a leap forward last week, when the City Council voted to accept a $5.4 million bid for work in the Schneider Canal drainage basin, one of the areas hardest hit by the storm.

Magnolia Construction LLC submitted the low bid for the project, which involves work on streets, sidewalks, driveway aprons, curbs, drainage and sewers. Construction is expected to begin in March and take 360 days.

Getting to this point has taken a lot longer.

FEMA was ready to close the books on Slidell’s post-Katrina repairs when Mayor Freddy Drennan took office in 2010, Chief Administrator Tim Mathison said. But while the federal agency had agreed fairly early on to pay for repairs to streets damaged by the storm, Slidell also had significant damage underground from the water that inundated the streets and from heavy truck traffic during debris removal and rebuilding.

Broken sewer lines put a burden on the city’s treatment plant, Mathison said, and leaking water lines have created sinkholes.

Drennan began pursuing FEMA money for that damage, too, and the city hired Stuart Consulting Group to help it make the case that Katrina’s damage was not just street-deep.

Doing so delayed the street repairs. City Council members pointed out that it would not have made sense to repair streets, only to tear them up again to address broken sewer lines and other issues. Nor would FEMA have paid to fix the streets a second time.

“The plan is to do it all together,” Councilman Sam Abney said.

Slidell is pursuing FEMA money for seven drainage basins in the city, Mathison said. In addition to the Schneider Canal basin, the others are Dellwood, Bonfouca, Lee Street, Bayou Patassat, Bayou Vincent and the W-14 Canal.

FEMA has agreed to pay $10 million, just over half of which is going to the Schneider Canal basin work, Mathison said. The rest of the money is divided among the other six areas.

Design work, which FEMA uses to determine eligibility for its assistance, is just 25 percent complete for the other drainage basins.

FEMA is covering only Katrina-related damage, Drennan noted. “They’re not going to fix everything that’s wrong,” he said, adding that the city had some inflow and infiltration problems in its sewer system before the 2005 storm.

However, Tony Brocato, of Stuart Consulting, sounded optimistic about being able to address the remaining drainage basins. “FEMA has said they will work with us,” he told the council.

Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.