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Residents asked to keep storm drains clean to prevent flooding

20th February 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Susan Buchanan
The Louisiana Weekly

Mayor Mitch Landrieu early this month asked residents to clean leaves and debris from the front of catch basins or storm drains on the blocks where they live to prevent flooding. Some taxpayers may balk at that suggestion but New Orleans isn’t the only municipality in the country to ask citizens to rake gutters and openings to drains. Most city governments, New Orleans included, try to routinely clear storm drains. However, last year the Public Works Dept. fell behind—mainly because it was filling potholes. Meanwhile, residents is parts of town were removing debris near drains to be on the safe side, and the idea of involving more neighbors grew.

Leaves clog drains, as does grass that homeowners and yard services sweep or blow on the sidewalk or street. Landrieu requests that yard waste be kept out of gutters and catch basins and that grass, leaves and clippings be stashed in trash cans.

Edward Buckner, a 7th Ward community leader and executive director of the Original Big 7 Culture and Heritage Club, said the city needs to attend to little things like cleaning catch basins to prevent big things like street flooding or debris from entering canals. He said “when asked, few 7th Ward citizens mind getting out and helping in front of their own doors. However, given the cost of living, some people don’t have or can’t afford a rake and a shovel, and the city should provide them.” He echoed advice from the mayor that residents not lift hefty catch-basin lids.

At the Lakeview Civic Association, board member Al Petrie said “before the mayor’s announcement, we were already sending out emails to members ahead of heavy rains, suggesting that they clean gutters and areas in front of catch basins on their blocks. We’re proactive about weather events.” The Mayor’s announcement was made on Feb. 2, shortly after the 6800 block of Louis XIV St. in Lakeview flooded when water from a busted main pipe wouldn’t drain because catch basins were clogged.

So what can you do? If you’re a person who plans to vacuum the living room for 10 minutes and is soon hanging out the window with a rag, you might be the type to go overboard with a storm drain. Just stick to raking and shoveling and don’t disassemble the catch basin, the Mayor’s Office says.

Lloyd Luton, construction services manager at Richard C. Lambert Consultants in Mandeville, said that Mayor Landrieu is asking residents to clean leaves, sticks and trash from in front of catch basins. Luton cautions that “residents should not try to remove the covers from the basins since they’re made of cast iron, weighing 208 pounds.” His firm does engineering and consulting on municipal streets and drainage. He said it’s difficult to remove a catch basin cover and you could break a finger if a lid falls on it. The city’s Public Works Dept. uses vacuum trucks to clean out drains after crews remove the covers, he noted.

Jason Juno, estimator for Metai­rie-based Hard Rock Construction, which does paving, grading and draining work, said small efforts make a difference in street drainage. “An elderly person can sweep out the front of a catch basin with a broom and a dustpan,” he said. “Keeping up with it prevents debris from accumulating.” He explained that a typical city block has four catch basins, each four feet long, and they’re usually located near intersections. Drains are sometimes installed in the few blocks that don’t have them.

As for concerns about bugs when raking leaves around drains, “any insects found in the material should be normal lawn insects common to this area,” Luton said.

After Katrina residents steered clear of debris because of flies. Flies have long since been brought under control but mosquito season is April through October so you may want to take precautions then.

How has the city done with its own storm-drain cleaning? In performance measures released by the Landrieu Administration in Nov­em­ber, the Public Works Dept. reported that catch basin cleaning by its street maintenance division didn’t meet a year-to-date goal. By September’s end, 2,702 basins had been cleaned for the year, less than half of the 6,000 objective for that date. Work accelerated in third-quarter 2011, however, because Public Works employees were reassigned from pothole patching, where targets were exceeded, to catch-basin cleaning. The department said it had two available vacuum trucks for basin cleaning and had ordered another.

The Dept. of Public Works is charged with maintaining over 85,000 catch basins and 48,000 manholes, along with more than eight million feet of drainage pipe, and it’s responsible for drainage pipes that are less than 36 inches in diameter. The city’s Sewerage & Water Board oversees pipes 36 inches or larger, drainage canals and pump stations.

On local streets you often see paint swirling around in catch basins. And cement that was improperly disposed of hardens inside the drainage system. The Mayor asks that paint, chemicals and hazardous materials from construction and rebuilding not be hosed or dumped into storm drains. Trash in our streets ends up as trash in our lake, the Mayor’s office warns. Untreated urban runoff carried by canals, including the 17th Street Canal, is flushed into Lake Pontchartrain.

Getting rid of water is a challenge anytime it rains or storms in the Crescent City. After Katrina, FEMA reimbursed the city more than $34 million for paying dozens of contractors to clean catch basins and manholes and to drain lines.

Mayor Landrieu’s new initiative, called Catch the Basin, is in conjunction with ServeNOLA, an office he created in mid-2011to focus on volunteerism. On February 4, more than 50 Tulane University sorority sisters earned college service hours by cleaning catch basins on Broadway, bordering the campus. The Mayor’s Office has urged residents to clean basins during three months a year in particular—February, June and November—to coincide with seasonal changes that cause flooding.

In American cities, volunteers performing essential services—including hazardous ones like firefighting—isn’t new. ServeNOLA had a big, Fight the Blight Day on September 24, when 538 volunteers contributed 2,152 hours. To learn more about ServeNOLA, call (504) 658-4974. To report illegal dumping in catch basins, call the city’s non-emergency information line at 311.

This article originally published in the February 20, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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