Sewerage & Water Board head Cedric Grant announces retirement, walks back statement that all pumps were working during Aug. 5 flood_lowres

A flooded street in Mid-City during the Aug. 5 rainstorm that inundated the city.

Cedric Grant, head of the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board (S&WB), issued a statement today walking back initial claims that "all pumps" were operational during the Aug. 5 rainstorm and flood that inundated parts of New Orleans. He added that he will be retiring in the next few months "rather than be a distraction to the hard work of fixing the system."

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," Grant said in a statement announcing his retirement. "Our staff was not forthright, which is unacceptable."

Yesterday S&WB General Superintendent Joe Becker confirmed to WWL-TV that though all 24 pumping stations were operational, eight of 121 individual pumps were not operating during a storm that dumped more than 9 inches of rain in some parts of town within a few hours. One of those pumps served Mid-City, the hardest-hit neighborhood during the storm.

[jump] On Saturday night, Grant had insisted that the system was working as it should, mentioning "climate change" as a driver for the storm. At a press conference yesterday with Gov. John Bel Edwards, Mayor Mitch Landrieu pointedly did not back up Grant, saying, ""I don't agree with that statement. I think it was said in the spirit of the moment."

[content-1]Grant, who previously was deputy mayor in charge of facilities and infrastructure, was appointed S&WB head by the Landrieu administration in 2014 at a salary of $210,000. He made headlines the following year when The New Orleans Advocate revealed he spent $60,000 renovating his office.

The City Council is holding hearings today on the flooding situation.

[content-2]Grant's statement:

“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.”