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BGR issues warning on N.O. capital needs

‘Enormous gap’ in footing bill is cited

Thursday, August 12, 2010
By Bruce Eggler
The Times-Picayune

While much attention has been paid recently to a projected $67.5 million shortfall in New Orleans’ 2010 operating budget, the Bureau of Governmental Research has been focusing on a shortfall of billions of dollars in the city’s ability to address its infrastructure needs.

In a report issued Wednesday, the nonpartisan research group says: “New Orleans faces an enormous gap between its capital needs and the resources available to meet them. Some of the city’s most fundamental infrastructure components — namely drainage, sewerage and water systems, and streets — face particularly steep funding shortfalls.”

The report says city government and the Sewerage & Water Board “are profoundly limited in their capacity to raise funds to meet these needs.”

The report, titled “The Price of Civilization: Addressing Infrastructure Needs in New Orleans,” is available on the BGR website, www.bgr.org.

Even before Hurricane Katrina, the report says, “New Orleans had decaying school facilities, crumbling streets and leaking subsurface infrastructure, among other physical weaknesses. The flooding following Katrina exacerbated these problems immensely.”

Yet, it says, “None of the citywide planning processes conducted since Katrina has yielded a substantive analysis of local infrastructure needs, much less concrete priorities.”

Former Mayor Ray Nagin’s “administration failed to pull together a community-wide picture of infrastructure needs. It did not even pull together a comprehensive assessment of the city government’s own capital needs,” the report says.

As a result, it says, the various government agencies “charged with building and maintaining local infrastructure have been moving along on separate trajectories. … Without prioritization and coordination, New Orleans risks making substantial investments in streets, only to have the work undone by leaking subsurface infrastructure. The city could end up with leafy neutral grounds flanked by neighborhoods that flood too easily.”

The report says the city’s sewer, water and drainage systems need many billions of dollars in repairs and upgrades, but the S&WB is almost $1 billion short of being able to pay for even the $3 billion in projects listed in its five-year capital program.

Meanwhile, the Department of Public Works “estimates that it will cost an additional $1.4 billion to reconstruct the remaining streets in poor to failed condition and to fix the drainage infrastructure for which the city is responsible,” yet it is not clear the department can pay for even the $400 million in capital projects it hopes to complete by 2016.

“Other entities within the city face capital shortfalls,” the report adds. “For example, the juvenile court system and the coroner’s office both have plans to rebuild and re-equip their facilities, but the available funding is inadequate. Years of deferred maintenance and the Katrina disaster have left a number of facilities owned by the City of New Orleans — including City Hall and public safety facilities — in need of repair or replacement.”

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