Proposed S&WB reforms could face changes in legislature - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports

Proposed S&WB reforms could face changes in legislature

Updated:
Mayor Mitch Landrieu presides over a July 2012 Sewerage and Water Board meeting. Mayor Mitch Landrieu presides over a July 2012 Sewerage and Water Board meeting.

New Orleans, La. — Mayor Mitch Landrieu wants the state legislature to clear the way for him to overhaul the Sewerage and Water Board. But some think the plan, which removes City Council members from the board and sets certain professional requirements for future board members, gives the mayor too much control while limiting who can qualify for the board.

Landrieu insists the reforms are needed to help the agency address pressing water, drainage, and sewerage system issues.

"It's been running ever since the storm," said Lester Horne, a Ninth Ward resident as he looked down at a drainage system leak across the street from his house Wednesday.

"Coming through the concrete… Running, running, running. Sewerage and Water ain't never come fix it," said Horne.

Mayor Landrieu is asking the legislature to help him fix the S&WB. Landrieu said serious reforms are needed to instill public confidence in the S&WB and to further much needed improvements in the infrastructure.

Landrieu proposes reducing the number of board members from 13 to nine, cutting their terms from nine years to four and limiting them to two consecutive terms. Board members would also be required to have expertise in fields like engineering, finance and architecture.

"The idea was to have people on the board who have subject matter expertise," said Landrieu.

But some members of the city's legislative delegation are not totally sold on his plan.

"I think everyone knows we need to do some reform on the Sewerage and Water Board and we're all on board with that. The question is how do we do it?" said Representative Jeff Arnold, D-Algiers.

Arnold thinks the legislation needs modifications.  "My position is I think we need some ratepayers on the board who are not aligned to anybody politically. The mayor's plan is very heavy on mayoral appointees and I think we need to be cautious in giving power on the board to any one entity," he said.

Landrieu was asked about that point. "None of the recommendations are that any of them be politically connected to anybody, it's actually the exact opposite.  But listen, it's a great idea going forward, it's in the legislature, obviously there are going to be tweaks and changes to the bill," said Landrieu.

A nominating committee comprised of university presidents would review candidates.

"In every city block, every street, there are hundreds and hundreds of feet of pipes and culverts and what-not that the Sewerage and Water Board is responsible for," said H.J Bosworth of Levees.org. He is also a professional civil engineer and thinks the mayor's wish list for board members is appropriate.

"When the average person of the city sees names of people on the board that have been there for 10 or more years and know that they probably have very little to do with engineering or drainage or finances and that sort of stuff, they have to wonder," he said.

The board has not been without scandal. In 2010, former board member Ben Edwards was sentenced to more than 20 years in prison for taking kickbacks from S&WB contractors.

"What's important is that we have a board that the people can trust," said Landrieu.

In 1998, the Sewerage and Water Board signed a federal consent decree with the EPA focusing on the sewer portion of the system, and there are still a lot of improvements to be made as part of that agreement.  In fact, S&WB Spokesman Robert Jackson said in an email to FOX 8 News Wednesday afternoon that $171 million in sewer system improvements still need to be made over the next 10 years in accordance with the federal consent decree.

That aside, Horne is glad one problematic area of his street has finally been repaired by S&WB. Now he hopes the water leaking from some other underground pipes can be addressed.

"Stop all that leak. We're paying for it," he said.

If the legislature approves the overhaul of the S&WB, voters would have to vote on the measures in the fall.

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