Councilman says permanent director for S&WB must bring a lot to the table

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - On the eve of the scheduled departure of the interim executive director of the embattled Sewerage and Water Board, a city councilman said whomever becomes the agency's new permanent executive director must have a vision for tackling short- and long-term challenges.

Friday business owner Elray Holmes stood in ankle-deep flood waters as he worked to clear out a catch basin near his establishment. Fortunately, by Monday morning, his business, Ray's on the Avenue which had taken on a foot of flood water was open for business.

"Not really realizing that the water was really growing as fast as it was growing until we got everything up off the floor," said Holmes.

And Monday the S&WB stood by its earlier assessment that 115 of the 120 pumps were operating during the deluge Friday. Spokesman Richard Rainey said at one point during the afternoon, more than 6 inches of rain fell on New Orleans.

District A Councilman Joseph Giarrusso III went to check out Pump Station 7 for himself after the heavy rainfall and subsequent flooding.

"To make sure the pumps were on. They were, the operators were there," the councilman said.

Friday's flooding did not help the ongoing public angst, especially following last summer's flooding that  revealed serious issues with the drainage system.

And now the agency's interim leader, Marcie Edwards, who was brought in during the crisis, has mere hours left on the job. A search is underway for a permanent replacement.

"We need to make sure that this hire is correct, and I think part of the process now is making sure we're vetting names, not only locally, but nationally," Giarrusso said.

Only days ago, Edwards wrote a letter to the council stating in part: "The Sewerage and Water Board is no longer a passive agency. We are forging ahead to be more transparent, more accountable, and to rise to our duty as responsible shepherds of the public trust and safety."

"The letter doesn't go into detail about every single thing we raised, but in particular it does address billing, that they're working on that," said Giarrusso.

Edwards' letter was in response to a strongly worded 10-page letter spearheaded by Giarrusso and signed by the entire City Council. It spoke of serious public distrust of the agency and demanded that the S&WB obey state law and provide detailed quarterly reports on the agency's operation.

"What we need to know is about the power sources, we need to know about the infrastructure," Giarrusso said Monday.

And while he believes citizens have every right to expect that Sewerage and Water Board equipment works at 100 percent capacity, he said the city's future must also include other ways to manage water.

"Everything should be on the table, whether it's the permeable concrete, whether its retention areas, whether its digging out new canals, anything under the sun that we can think of that is going to help this issue," said Giarrusso.

Edwards' letter to the council also said the city's drainage system now has more power and capability available than it has had in more than a decade.

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