46 tons of Mardi Gras beads found in clogged catch basins

January 29, 2018 in News by RBN Staff


Source: NOLA.com | By Beau Evans bevans@nola.com, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

A street drain is leaning halfway into the ground as oak tree roots grow around it on South Claiborne in New Orleans on Thursday, August 10, 2017. (Photo by Chris Granger, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

A street drain is leaning halfway into the ground as oak tree roots grow around it on South Claiborne in New Orleans on Thursday, August 10, 2017. (Photo by Chris Granger, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

Aside from leaves, mud and sundry sludge, there’s one festive item that cleaning crews sucking out thousands of storm drains in New Orleans have found in droves recently.

Mardi Gras beads. Tons of them.

Specifically: 93,000 pounds on a five-block stretch of St. Charles Avenue downtown.

“Once you hear a number like that, there’s no going back,” Dani Galloway, interim director of the city’s Department of Public Works, said Thursday afternoon (Jan. 25) at a news conference. “So we’ve got to do better.”

Since late September, crews working under a $7 million emergency contract have flushed out 15,000 clogged catch basins – nearly one-fourth of the city’s full roster of about 68,000. Using almost two dozen vacuum trucks, crews working for Baton Rouge-based Compliance EnviroSystems managed to collect around 7.2 million pounds of debris from Sept. 26 to Jan. 23.

“This is a staggering number,” Galloway said.

Guns, bones & drills: What's in New Orleans' catch basins

Guns, bones & drills: What’s in New Orleans’ catch basins

Crews have been clearing hundreds of storm drains under an emergency contract.

What’s more, the 93,000 pounds of Mardi Gras beads – more than 46 tons – were all found on St. Charles between Poydras Street and Lee Circle. Speaking at Thursday’s news conference, Galloway said Public Works is brainstorming with the city’s sanitation department on methods, such as temporarily stuffing the openings with “gutter buddies,” to keep so many carnival beads from going down the drain.

Beyond city staff cleanings and pricey contract work, Galloway said New Orleans residents have to step up to clear catch basins in their own neighborhoods. She said city officials have met with dozens of residents from every city district in recent months train them on how to clean catch basins.

Among the trainees was Brenda Lomax-Brown, president of the Hollygrove-Dixon Neighborhood Association, who on Thursday echoed Galloway’s call for more hands-on citizen maintenance.

“We need to take better care of our storm drains,” she said. “It is so important.”

How to clean your catch basins: It's pretty simple

How to clean your catch basins: It’s pretty simple

No, they don’t want you to lift up the heavy metal lid and dig out the muck inside.

The recent push for catch basin cleaning followed widespread flooding last summer that scores in New Orleans blamed largely on severe problems with the Sewerage & Water Board’s drainage pump and power systems. Many also pointed to a backlog of clogged catch basins that hadn’t been cleaned even through city officials had earmarked $3 million last year to do so.

Days after the Aug. 5 flooding, the New Orleans City Council signed off on a $22 million emergency plan to clean and repair thousands of catch basins, financed by the city’s general fund and a new “rainy day” account. The plan included the $7 million to unclog 15,000 catch basins in 120 days, via an emergency contract awarded to Kenner-based RAMJ Construction.

But RAMJ had cleaned hardly more than 300 catch basins by early September when state environmental quality monitors accused the company of violating state rules by dumping solid waste in a landfill without first separating it from liquid sludge. City officials yankedRAMJ from the contract and gave it to Compliance EnviroSystems, which quickly came under fire for not being a local company and beating out a lower-priced bid from a New Orleans company that later threatened to file suit.

On Thursday, Galloway sought to soften Compliance EnviroSystem’s Baton Rouge roots. She said that more than 60 percent of the firm’s workforce and subcontractors for the cleaning project were hired locally, including some through the city’s Hire NOLA workforce development program.

“They are our own people doing this work,” Galloway said Thursday. “This is important because it maximizes economic impact on the city’s contracts for the people that live and work here.”

Cleaning New Orleans catch basins involves race, politics

Cleaning New Orleans catch basins involves race, politics

City Council members sparred over how a Kenner company won an emergency contract.

In all, Galloway said the contracted 15,000 catch basins were among a total 23,000 cleaned since the start of 2017. This year, the goal will likely be to clean between 6,000 and 6,500 catch basins in 2018, Galloway said, up from last year’s initial goal of 4,000.

Galloway cautioned not to expect cleaning next year on the order of the 23,000 cleaned since Jan. 1 last year.

“It’s not going to be near the figures we have now because it’s not funded for this kind of work on a daily basis,” she said.

Aside from sucking out sludge, Galloway said another contractor has repaired about 2,000 faulty catch basins since September and has several thousand more to go. Hard Rock Construction Co. has been doing that work under a roughly $17 million emergency contract, records show.