NEW ORLEANS — Mayor Mitch Landrieu reiterated the urgency of fixing the city’s water infrastructure at a news conference Monday morning during which he announced a new job training partnership between the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board, Delgado Community College, and JOB1 Business and Career Solutions Center.
The partnership will add capacity for training and certifying current employees and create a pipeline for new jobs at the S&WB as the city ramps up major repairs and improvements, Landrieu said.
“We are losing 40 percent of our water every day because the pipes that transport the water are cracked,” Landrieu said.
Landrieu also cited multiple “catastrophic” power outages at the plant and concerns about safe drinking water and appropriate water pressure for the Fire Department as crucial aspects to the health and security of the city.
“If we don’t make investments, the city will continue to be at risk,” Landrieu said.
Lauding his administration’s success in reorganizing government entities and utilizing public/private partnerships, Landrieu said he is committed to major governance changes at the SW&B and working to upgrade and streamline operations.
“But we cannot do this without a rate increase,” Landrieu said. “We are proposing a 10 percent rate increase from 2013 to 2020.” The mayor promised accountability and transparency.
As early as this week, city officials will consider the rate increase proposal to raise local funds needed for a $3.3 billion capital improvement project with more than 600 projects.
The rate increase “will help fund perhaps one of the largest infrastructure projects that the city of New Orleans has ever seen, and it will produce in fact 25,000 construction jobs,” Landrieu said. The project will also support 186 permanent jobs over the next 10 years.
S&WB Executive Director Marcia St. Martin said that with 35 percent of the workforce aging and close to retirement, there will be about 300 jobs to fill over the next five years due to attrition as well as new projects.
“The longer we put it off, the more expensive it will be, the more time consuming and costly it will be and the greater at risk the city of New Orleans will be” Landrieu said. Repairs are a matter of when, not if, he said, emphasizing that the undertaking will require sacrifice on the part of residents.
The partnership with Delgado and Job 1 will help ensure that the jobs are filled by local people and that they have the necessary training, Landrieu said. Currently, 239 S&WB employees require certification in wastewater treatment, as well as workers with private contractors that will require certification.
Delgado will offer a water and wastewater operator certification program and a civil service test preparation program in early 2013. Training certification classes will be offered in water production, water distribution, water treatment, wastewater collection and wastewater treatment.
“Is it a great opportunity to have safety and security and put people to work,” Landrieu said.
Delgado will also apply to become a certification testing site with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, the closest of which is in Baton Rouge.
While the S&WB has partnered with local colleges and universities on research related projects, St. Martin said this is the first formalized job training partnership. St. Martin said there likely will be future training opportunities through the partnership to fill workforce demands for a variety of technical skills, including welders, electricians, linemen and machinists.
Delgado Chancellor Monty Sullivan said that the plan will “not only improve physical structure of the Sewerage & Water Board but also invest in the people of the city of New Orleans — and to invest in the training that is necessary to ensure that systems work in the way that they should work.”