Lights and Garbage Post-Ida Hot Potatoes

Organizing Rebuild New Orleans

New Orleans     After four days on the road, the first thing I heard, when returning to New Orleans, was that the garbage had still not been picked up in any of our neighborhoods.  It was all the talk at our coffeehouse, and all over the street front there as well.  It was stacked up and out of cans, bags, and wherever in the neighborhood where we live, more than two weeks after the storm.

            City officials pleading for patience on the front page of the paper were.  They really aren’t from here obviously.  Patience is a week maybe, but not two and counting for most Orleanians.  They claim that only one-third of the city has seen no trucks, and that the other two-thirds have had “one-pass,” which they define as workers emptying one 95-gallon wheelie can and moving on.  Officials reminded residents that Hurricane Ida was a category four storm.  The reminder seems gratuitous, since everyone living here knows full well exactly how strong the storm was, chapter and verse.  Officials need to understand the danger zone.  Hurricanes to New Orleans are like snowstorms in New York City.  They can make or break mayors and other electeds.  Meanwhile the primary for city elections, including the mayor’s race, have been delayed for a month to allow people to return, but also to let votes seethe.

            The garbage will be picked up, so this issue will lose some of its bite by then, but the more dangerous hot potato is likely to be how the city handles Entergy and the company’s accountability for its negligence and perhaps mendacity in storm preparation, hardening infrastructure, and creating redundancy leading to the extensive outage running almost as long as the garbage has been rotting.  Historically, ratepayers have picked up the bills for Entergy’s hurricane recovery costs, but their ineptness in dealing with this serious hurricane, but one that actually largely missed the city and should have created minimal damage and inconvenience, is a huge issue.  The soaring Entergy bills had already been hot button issues, partially because ratepayers were paying for the construction of the 128 MW gas-powered plant in the city, which was sold partially for storm outage prevention but wasn’t even turned on for days after the storm.  The rage that households are now going to shoulder the costs of the company’s incompetence, rather than the investors, is not going to disappear quickly.

            Council regulators, including the chair of the utility committee, who is running for re-election at large and has ambitions of running for mayor soon, are beating the drum about holding up recovery monies and authorization.  Hearings are being promised, but no heads have rolled, at least yet.

            It’s an opportunity to talk not only about redundancy but also alternatives rather than the reliance of Entergy on fossil fuels for two-thirds of its power supply in an area where the sun won’t stop shining.  In a poor city like New Orleans, it’s not just about climate and the environment.  It’s politically unsustainable to strap citizens with the choice of food versus lights, rent versus cooling.  Politics is both an art and science in Louisiana, and none of them will need a weatherman to tell them which way this storm is coming.