Former S&WB inspector 'sick' over recent developments

Former S&WB inspector 'sick' over recent developments

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A former inspector with the Orleans Sewerage and Water Board is speaking out on conditions that he believes have led to this week's problems.

He says poor maintenance, caused in large part by reduced staffing, is largely to blame, and he says board members should have known.

"I was a helicopter pilot and commander," said Ron Walker, a Vietnam veteran who was bestowed a Purple Heart.

Walker went on to work for seven years as an inspector for the S&WB in the early 90s and doesn't like what he sees.

"I am sick," he said.

This week, New Orleanians learned that their drainage system had 16 pumps out during Saturday's big flood event. Three out of five turbines also were out of commission, and Walker says leaders should have known. A fourth turbine went out Thursday after an electrical fire but has since been repaired.

"The main problem here is you had a person who didn't know the system, and he was appointed. People would not talk because they said, 'We have a job, I have a family, you talk, you're done,'" Walker said.

He says when he was an inspector, there were monthly briefings with then-Mayor Marc Morial, who, like Mayor Landrieu, served as president of the S&WB.

"We would all go up into the conference room and make a presentation," said Walker.

He also says back then the city did a much better job of cleaning storm drains and roadways, and he says canals were regularly dug out and kept clear.

"We would have a crane come out, gouge the canals out," said Walker.

He also says staffing cuts have had a big impact. Other employees agree.

"As far as station number 12 which manages most of the Lakeview - it's not manned 24 hours," said employee Darrell Hayward.

This week, Cedric Grant, the director of the water board, announced he's stepping down, clearing the way for new leadership.

"It's constant work. You can't treat it like a car that you ride until the caution lights go on," said Walker.

Councilwoman Stacy Head believes all drainage functions should be brought together instead of split between the Sewerage and Water Board and the Department of public works.

"If we had all the functions of drainage in one entity, then you would know where the buck stops," said Head.

Ron Walker says it's not like the Sewerage and Water Board didn't have problems before - he says it's just gotten a whole lot worse.

"Probably a thousand percent worse when you got pumps out since Katrina," he said.

And he hopes corrective measures are taken soon. Walker believes that the water board has been hurt by efforts to remove civil service. He says to qualify for civil service, you have to have training and be OSHA qualified, and he worries that those qualifications are being lost.

The mayor has blamed aging infrastructure and poor communication for many of the recent problems.

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