NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - As we head into the heart of hurricane season, New Orleans City Council members are pressing the Department of Public Works to do more when it comes to cleaning and repairing thousands of catch basins.
The city says it has limited funds to deal with the massive problem. If levees are the first line of defense against hurricanes, the city's 75,000 catch basins might be the second line, and one council member says there are problems all over town.
"This is a large portion of a car in a catch basin. Not ok," said outgoing Councilwoman Stacy Head, who laid out dozens of problems across town. As she heads into her final months on the council, she's not backing down.
"Don't care what the excuses are, we've gone through this for a year and a half," said Head.
She faced off against the head of public works Tuesday trying to get answers.
"We are using all the resources we have to perform maintenance on the drainage system," said Mark Jernigan, with the city's Department of Public Works.
Many residents are frustrated.
"I saw in this article they fixed 300 catch basins. Not in my neighborhood," said Rita Lagron of Lakeview.
"There was a young man shot and he was put in that drain, and he was down there for weeks," said a resident of the Seventh Ward.
Council members say one of the big problems is the drainage system has two overseers. The Department of Public Works supervises a system of 36-inch pipes and thousands of catch basins, while the Sewerage and Water Board takes care of the rest.
"I've been asking for seven years if we could put all that responsibility to Sewerage and Water Board. Has there been any movement on that?" asked Councilwoman Susan Guidry.
The short answer is there hasn't, but city officials say they are doing a better job of working together with a complicated mix of funding sources.
"A project using $2.7 million in CDBG Hurricane Isaac funding to complete drainage point repairs, now in the bid phase. Bids scheduled to open August 24th," said Jernigan.
The city has approved spending $300,000 for emergency work, but it clearly won't be enough.
"We are on track to replace around 75 catch basin lids by the end of this week," said Jernigan, as Head exclaimed, "Hallelujah!"
Public works says a total of $5.7 million has been allocated for drainage point repairs this year. But while they say they are making progress, they say many repairs are complex and turn out being far more expensive than first thought.