New Orleans residents from Algiers, Gentilly, Pontchartrain Park and New Orleans East sent a letter to the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board (S&WB) requesting guided tours of pumping stations in each neighborhood following revelations of downed pumps, broken power supplies and dysfunction throughout the agency and flood response at City Hall.
Pontchartrain Park resident Jerome Wilson’s car was flooded during Aug. 5 floods. “We have serious concerns about the functionality of pumps and drains in our neighborhoods and want to obtain a better understanding of the problems and solutions as the Sewerage & Water Board works to restore pumping/drainage capacity and mend relations with citizens,” he said in a statement.
"Had we taken the time to look at the pumps, I don't think it would've happened," New Orleans East resident Gladies Hamilton told Gambit. "It's happened too often."
Hamilton says the group hopes a combination of media pressure and accessibility to the S&WB, its staff and board and systems will help build trust with the agency. But the group also hopes for increased transparency from the S&WB, especially after a heated New Orleans City Council meeting in the wake of the flood, after which Mayor Mitch Landrieu asked for resignations from several staffers.
Hamilton says residents, "in layman's terms, we want to know what's working."
"They aren't really talking about about what's going on," she said. "They're not being transparent [and] the average person wouldn't understand ... They're using a vernacular an average person wouldn't be able to read."
The group also has the support of flood prevention and advocacy group levees.org.
City officials said they plan to work with S&WB leadership to review and respond to the tour request.
"After Katrina, we came back to a city expecting it to be better," Hamilton said. "It's decreased, as far as our safety, and it's not fair to us. We deserve better."
Next week. the Urban Conservancy and Greater New Orleans Foundation will host a forum with candidates for New Orleans mayor about storm water management as well as the city’s role in coastal erosion and restoration and how it’s prepared for the inevitability of living with water.
The forum is 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Sept. 14 at the New Orleans Jazz Market (1436 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd.). Participating candidates include Michael Bagneris, Ed Bruski, LaToya Cantrell, Desiree Charbonnet, Brandon Dorrington, Troy Henry, Matthew Hill and Johnese Smith.