Filed Under:  Local

Work on catch basins hits major snag

25th September 2017   ·   0 Comments

As the City of New Orleans continues to get its pumps working to full capacity, repair all of its turbines that fuel the pumps and clear out the city’s catch basins during the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season, efforts to ensure that all of the catch basins are clear of debris and working properly have hit a major snag, WWL News reported last week.

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality told a local contractor to stop clearing debris from catch basins and drain lines, raising concerns about where the contractor, RAMJ Construction LLC, was dumping the debris its vacuum trucks pulled out of the city’s drainage system.

Despite the city’s efforts to prevent additional flooding like that which took place on July 22 and Aug. 5 in parts of the city like Tremé, Gentilly, Lakeview and Mid-City, the DEQ put the brakes on the city’s “emergency” plan to clean 15,000 catch basis because the city and RAMJ Construction didn’t have a written plan for safely disposing of the debris.

“We’ve asked them not to dispose of any material until they get a plan in place that we approve,” Greg Langley, Communications Director for DEQ, told WWL.

The vacuum/flush trucks use water to force clogs out of the city’s smaller drain lines. Anything greater than 36 inches in diameter is the responsibility of the Sewerage & Water Board.

Water and sludge vacuumed out of the catch basins and drain lines gets pulled into a tank on the trucks, but according to the DEQ, liquids can not be dumped in a landfill.

“They have to spread the solids at an offsite location to let it dry, then taken to a landfill,” Langley said.

The City of New Orleans submitted a dumping plan to the agency Monday, and while Langley said the agency will expedite the review process, it’s an added delay to years of deferred maintenance of the drainage system.

Rain water inundated some homes and businesses on July 22 and again on August 5, causing an uproar among residents after the S&WB admitted that some of the city’s drainage pumps were broken or were down for maintenance.

The floods led Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who was out of town at the time of the Aug. 5 flood, to declare a state of emergency because of the diminished drainage capacity, should a tropical weather system dump large amounts of rain on the city during hurricane season.

The flooding “scandal” ultimately led to the resignations and termination of several of the S&WB’s top officials and board members.

The city issued an emergency contract up to $4,537,500 to RAMJ Construction to clean the catch basins and smaller drain lines September 6, a month after the last flood.

“As is typical for these types of projects, one priority of the first week was to finalize all logistics. When it became clear that the contractor needed a better process to appropriately dispose of the solid and slurry waste products from the storm drains, DPW met with representatives of LDEQ for consultation on the disposal process last week,” said Erin Burns, Press Secretary for Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

Before the summer floods, two of the five vacuum trucks operated directly by the New Orleans Department of Public Works were out of service. Since then, one of those has been repaired and returned to service.

A statement released as an update to the city’s drainage system last month said, “DPW cleans an average of five to six catch basins per day per vacuum truck crew for an average of 4,263 catch basins per year.”

Langley said it is unclear where the City has been dumping material cleaned by DPW trucks in the past since there was no DEQ-approved plan in place.

The emergency contract with RAMJ Construction states, “The Contractor will be required to dispose of the any debris at a sanction licensed landfill, as approved by the City and any other regulatory agency. Contractor is also responsible for any permitting or fees associated with debris removal and disposal activities.”

Langley said RAMJ was represented in a DEQ meeting with city representatives on Friday and said that RAMJ indicated that at least 10 loads of debris may have been inappropriately dumped at various landfills throughout the metro area.

Landrieu’s press secretary said DPW has met with the DEQ three times since the catch basin- cleaning project began in earnest September 7.

“We expect to have final resolution tomorrow and be positioned to resume work shortly,” Burns said.

Adding to the city’s woes is a boil-water advisory issued Wednesday for the East Bank of Orleans Parish, a move to guard against any possible contaminants in the city’s tap water.

Even before the floods on July 22 and Aug. 5, questions arose about the safety and quality of the city’s tap water and the methodologies used to test it for high levels of lead.

Then S&WB executive director Cedric Grant was criticized harshly this summer for including the homes of S&WB employees in lead-testing efforts.

This article originally published in the September 25, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

Readers Comments (0)

You must be logged in to post a comment.