On top of other serious problems, S&WB faces staffing shortages

On top of other serious problems, S&WB faces staffing shortages

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - On top of all the other problems, the Orleans Sewerage and Water Board is dealing with a manpower problem. There  are nearly 300 vacancies and a board that may not be able to conduct its business.

The  board met Wednesday to update equipment repairs and learn about a couple of new problems, including a staffing shortfall, and more retirements on the way.

"We need a special analysis of all these people who are about to retire," said board member Alan Arnold.

But there are staffing problems with the board itself.  Three board members recently resigned, and Arnold himself is on the fence.

"My wife says no, but I'm being asked by a lot of people to stay, and I'm making up my mind," said Arnold.

If Arnold steps down, the board loses it's quorum, prompting a special request from the board president.

"What I'm asking you to do is not leave us in a position," said Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

While the water board is down nearly 300 positions, management is being asked to fill those posts as quickly as they can while they try and hold on to the most experienced workers. The board will now try and get civil service to speed up the hiring process.

"Y'all meet with civil service and see what barriers we need to break down," said Landrieu.

The mayor is also talking about putting in an interim management team, which is raising concern - in spite of a Landrieu pledge not to privatize.

"With all due respect, you say there's no intent to privatize, but what you're describing is a playbook for privatization," said Grace Meyers, with the Sierra Club.

Problems with drainage became evident 10 days ago, when hundreds of cars, homes and businesses flooded because of broken drainage pumps, and inoperable  turbines.

"I had no idea those weren't working," said Arnold.

The mayor said that 104 of 120 pumps are now working after a pump at Station 6 was repaired Tuesday night. But he said only two of five turbines are operational.

"The power has us vulnerable. We're trying to create redundancy. That's why we rang the bell and that's why the contractors are in place as we speak," said Landrieu.

Some of those contractors may actually start operating pumps next week. The mayor hopes those private contractors can help man major stations, 24/7.

Landrieu has called  a special council meeting for Thursday to consider a $3 million cash infusion to help deal with the current emergency as the tropics heat up.

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