$141 million OK’d for 2 plants upgrades

The City Council last week approved $141 million in hazard mitigation funds the Sewerage & Water Board needs to upgrade its aging east bank power plant and a water intake plant on nearby Oak Street.

The most needed repairs, officials have said, are at the agency’s power plant on South Claiborne Avenue. Since Hurricane Katrina, the facility has failed several times, prompting boil-water advisories in the city. It also has suffered a fire.

The council voted 6-0 to approve the funds. Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell was absent for the vote, having left the Jan. 10 council meeting early for a previously scheduled engagement.

“It is a highest priority in hazardous mitigation at this point to make sure that power plant is safe, reliable and resilient,” Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant told the council. “This is a huge shot in the arm toward that.”

Work the S&WB will complete with the money includes increasing the capacity of the Oak Street intake and pump station while upgrading some hardware and hardening the power complex building and the electrical components.

“This is a critical piece of infrastructure for the city that absolutely needs to be resilient and survive,” Grant said.

In February 2011, Mayor Mitch Landrieu requested $200 million from Gov. Bobby Jindal in hazard mitigation funds to begin repairs.

In a letter to Jindal, the mayor noted that in nearly a century of operation, the plant failed only four times — all after Katrina.

While FEMA previously awarded the S&WB $12.5 million, the agency was still waiting for $141 million to complete the work.

Council President Stacy Head and Councilwoman Kristin Palmer emphasized during last week’s council meeting that the money going toward the repairs to the two plants is not coming from a recently approved package of rate increase for sewer and water service.