Two years after contract awarded, S&WB changing pump energy strains on North Broad

Nearly two years late, the Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans has finally begun replacing underground electric lines along North Broad Street — part of a years-long plan to bolster the battered power system for the agency’s east bank drainage. 

Construction on a mile-long stretch of North Broad, which started Dec. 5, has blocked off the left riverbound lane from around St. Bernard Avenue to Orleans Avenue. The work is scheduled to last three months, according to a news release issued by the Sewerage and Water Board on Nov. 30.

The reliability of New Orleans’ pumps and their power system has come under close scrutiny since separate hard rains July 22 and Aug. 5 caused widespread flooding. The Sewerage and Water Board has a plant to generate its own power, as opposed to relying on Entergy’s grid, in part to guarantee the power to the pumps. But several S&WB turbines broke before or shortly after the Aug. 5 flood, reviving long calls to improve the reliability of the agency’s power. 

Zachary Hudson, a Sewerage and Water Board spokesman, said in an email Monday (Dec. 11) that the construction now involves replacing the “electrical feeder” extending between two pump stations on North Broad. One station is below Interstate 610, the other at the Lafitte Greenway.

The work is being done under a contract signed in 2015, which was awarded to Grady Crawford Construction Co., Hudson said. But the contractor, Hudson said in a follow-up email Wednesday night, did not start construction on the full project scope up to Treasure Street until August – even though work was supposed to begin in February 2016.

The delay, Hudson said, was attributed to “delays in obtaining the permit to construct utilities within the public right of way.”

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After the Aug. 5 flooding, Sewerage and Water Board officials vacillated in public comments about the agency’s performance. They first said all of the city’s 120 pumps were working during the rains, but later admitted as many as 16 pumps were not operating at the time of the flood. Several of the agency’s top officials lost their jobs as a result. 

Similarly, the Sewerage and Water Board’s power plant is also under the microscope. Half of the agency’s power turbines either broke down in the months preceding Aug. 5 or in the months after, while one is still undergoing refurbishment dating back to 2012.

The line replacement work on North Broad figures in a larger plan to “harden,” or upgrade, the Sewerage and Water Board’s power supply, according to records. A description of the contract for the work calls for crews to replace 10 power distribution lines, or feeders, ultimately linking to the Carrollton power plant, where a web of boilers and turbines run the bulk of the city’s potable water and drainage operations.

“The feeder replacement will improve the reliability of power delivery to the station via its primary feeders,” Hudson said.

The feeder replacement project should be…

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