Can power lines be buried during major drainage projects? Freret merchants ask City Council

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Crowds gather in front of The Company Burger on Freret St. as hamburgers are given out Thursday while most of Uptown waits for power to come back. (Sabree Hill,

Electricity was finally restored to the majority of the Freret corridor late Sunday evening, after nearly a week of most businesses there either giving away their goods or struggling to operate without power.

As the New Orleans City Council prepares to hold a hearing on the Entergy response at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, the Freret Business and Property Owners Association has sent a letter emphasizing the importance of local businesses in any recovery, and raising the possibility that the major upcoming underground drainage work on Jefferson, Napoleon and Louisiana avenues could include other utilities.

The letter is printed in full below:

To the New Orleans City Council,

First, I hope you, your staff and families weathered the storm safely. Second, we appreciate your demands of accountability to Entergy by calling a special meeting on Tuesday, September 4th.

As I type this letter on Sunday morning, more than 80% of our commercial corridor remains without power. These are small family owned and operated businesses that are desperate to reopen as to mitigate further losses. We all remember after Katrina battling insurance companies for business interruption insurance and what a nightmare it was. Most importantly, if these businesses were back on line, they could be serving the immediate surrounding neighborhood that is also still without electricity.

After viewing the Entergy outage map, I cannot make any sense of where the priorities were to restore power. It appears the response was not well organized, to put it mildly. While I understand the safety of the linesmen not working in 30 mph winds, that was not the case in all areas. There are several private weather stations all over New Orleans that were operating and reporting accurate up to the minute sustainable winds. Including one at 5110 Freret Street, one at Newman High School, one at SnoWizard on Magazine Street to list just a few. We have seen how private +
public partnerships have successfully worked in the past in our city.

I am not sure about all of the details for the Master Plan of city wide infrastructure, but I hope they can coordinate all of the agencies to work together. For example, could the SELA drainage project currently on Napoleon and soon to be on Jefferson run underground utilities at the same time? To add further insult, FEMA is not currently reimbursing individuals for damages. Many have a 20% hurricane deductible and that would require $15,000-$30,000+ of damages. Please advocate to the Governor FEMA needs to help by reimbursing damages sustained from this storm.

Kellie Grengs
Volunteer Board Member

17 thoughts on “Can power lines be buried during major drainage projects? Freret merchants ask City Council

  1. All areas of New Orleans, starting with areas above the flood line, should have underground power lines, just like in the French Quarter/CBD.

  2. Sure, power lines can be buried, but it is very costly.A recent article in the Washington Post pegged the cost at ten times more than overhead lines. “A 2010 study found that the D.C. area could prevent more than 1,000 outages a year by burying all of its overhead lines. But it would cost $5.8 billion, adding $226 to customers’ monthly electricity bills for the next 10 years. ” By the way, the additional $226 per month is more than twice a typical bill.

      • Can others to bid and do? Then Entergy maintain and operate?
        Would the price drop if mandated by legislation?
        May sound like more red tape- but it would guarantee scope of the work+ make easier to fund on long term on maintenance. savings-
        And with all we spend on time and 1/2 labor- and buying our band-aid from the emergency room- the ROI on 1,000,000/block maybe less than 20 years?

    • I live in Lake Vista, and our underground power usually is among the first to come back online, although some parts of Lake Vista took several days after Isaac, while mine came back mid-day on August 30. However, underground power costs a lot up front, too, because the subdivision’s original agreement with Entergy required property owners’ private electricians to lay the line between the house and the property line. I had to replace that line after Katrina and, as I recall, just that part of the repair charges came to about $1500 – $2000 between digging and the new cable. So factor that cost in with the extra amount per month cited above.

  3. -As per request from RM, I add to what my wife (Kellie Grengs) wrote-

    Freret has come a long way in 7 years, but Issac exposed we still needs to be done-

    New Orleans needs a new power grid- from top to bottom…
    We need a new sewage system- top to bottom…
    We don’t have the $ to do it all.

    But we needed a new Freret 7 years ago- top to bottom-
    and look what we have today.

    what was paid to the “experts”/”architects”, that gave us Street Bump
    Outs without trash cans, all was affordably achieved through a mixes of
    public/private partnerships.
    it took time, and help from engaged neighbors, volunteers, non-profits
    like NHS, Boxing Matches on Friday nights, a Saturday Market , and investors not blinded by blight, but
    it also came from and changes to our B1A zoning.
    A little planning goes a long way…

    already spend big monies to dig up roads- why not mitigate risk and get
    our power grid underground where it belongs at the same time?

    This link shows the weather above our home/studio 7 years to the day after Katrina-
    The 19.5 inches of rain maybe incorrect (the high winds effected rain gauge at 48 feet), but the 72 MPH wind gusts are correct.
    and we did not have an anemometer there 2005, but are original building blew over so…
    And that’s with the powerful side Katrina’s eye wall missing us- what if it hit directly?
    Next storm?

    I have “experts” before as to why our grid is above ground surrounded by trees?
    was told it was “too expensive to install/maintain to go below”—-
    “I’m an expert, your a ? What happens when it floods?”— “That’s why
    we can put em underground in the French quarter and CBD, but not Uptown,
    in New Orleans East, Gentilly etc…..”
    I say hogwash; and it’s sure makes for guaranteed revenue to manage what we have now.

    It’s time to stop paying for a band aid on top of band-aid when we have a chest wound.
    With enough voices and a little planning; every time a rode is replaced- so is the surrounding power grid.
    Entergy for the hard work (not kidding THANKS!!!), but I saw how y’all
    upgraded to high pressure gas lines City wide post K- house by house- the same can be done with electricity if we demand it.
    can happen sooner than later if we skip with the highly paid “experts”
    and studies, cut the red tape, and make it profitable for a smaller
    company to do the work. Still keep Entergy, but slowly get our grid
    underground. Clecko are you interested?

    Best from Freret-
    Andy Brott

    Best from Freret,
    Andy Brott

  4. I am one of the engineers currently working on one of the Uptown drainage projects (SELA), and we actually asked Entergy to do this. DPW’s lines will be buried, and the power pole will need to be relocated anyway as the box culvert will be down the center of the neutral ground. Entergy merely exclaimed that it was too expensive and insisted that it would not happen. It certainly would’ve made sense though.

  5. Underground wiring isn’t the cure all some think it is. Not only is it incredibly expensive to retrofit a neighborhood to underground wiring, but it also does not prevent outages.
    Lake Terrace has underground wiring. We lost electricity Wednesday morning and the electricity was not restored until Sunday at 6:30 PM.
    The problem is that the underground wiring still gets fed by overhead lines coming from the substations. Also, Lake Terrace looses electricity during minor thunderstorms on a regular basis.
    The problem lies in the current overhead line infrastructure IMO. Poles are not regularly inspected and replaced when necessary. Trees are not being trimmed as frequently as necessary. And the repair crews had to drive from Illinois once the storm ended.
    In the past…it seemed as if when a storm ended…neighboring utility companies send professional lineman to repair the system. Of the crews I saw repairing some of the areas…..there were two repairman up in the bucket trucks and 2 guys on the ground just watching for the most part. Of the 2 in the air….One seemed to really know his job and was very proficient. The other appeared to be a much younger guy with a couple of years experience. At one point….two managers showed up and asked the proficient guy about a problem they were having a few blocks away. Then the older proficient lineman left….and returned about a 45 minutes later. When he returned….he was explaining to the other workers about how the other crew ran into trouble and how he helped them repair the problem.
    I am convinced that these repair lineman are no way as proficient as lineman from neighboring utility companies which have showed up in the past.
    Some bean counter at Entergy tried to save a buck…..and we paid the price.

  6. Tim-
    thanks- is Lake Vista the same?
    All built with power below?
    As you pointed out-
    “The problem is that the underground wiring still gets fed by overhead
    lines coming from the substations.
    Lucky for you- if those lines ran under ground- you would be more like the CBD + 1/4, and less like us.
    Yes- too expensive to retrofit all, but for you- lets at least get one dedicated or at least start seeclickfix like solutions-
    Use what we have- and VE (value engineer), mitigate, and spend less on band aids at the emergency room-
    Especially when a road is dug up-
    Just look at the SELA work-
    We pay time and 1/2 to out of state crews (THANK YOU) to drive all the way down here to do one of the most dangerous jobs in the world-
    I would rather pay locals + make construction jobs, + reward innovation.
    It’s not that hard if we start small and think big.
    Best from Freret,
    Andy Brott

    • Yes Andy..Lake Vista…East Lakeshore and Lake Terrace all have underground wiring. The area was developed in the late 40s I believe. I think Lake Vista had their power return much sooner than Lake Terrace.

      As far as Lake Terrace…..The feeder lines are all above ground and most seem to run down St Bernard Avenue to Prentiss and then down Prentiss to the Substation. A quick drive down St Bernard will quickly enlighten one to the obvious problem of leaning and rotten telephone poles and non-maintained infrastructure. IMO….most of the down telephone poles I saw were very old poles. I can’t remember see any new looking poles which were down. That and branches in the trees.

      I just don’t think that talk about burying the wiring in Orleans Parish is the cure all. I do think that when the city decides to do a major road rehab….And that same road is the route of a major feeder line….yes…in those cases then it would seem to make sense to then bury those wires while other upgrades are being done to the city streets.

      It would make so much sense if Entergy and S&WB and Cox would all sit down with the Council BEFORE they rehab a street….all get on the same page so that once the road is finished….its really finished for a while.

      But…lets not forget….when Gustav hit….it wiped out all of southern La because the grids main high power lines were knocked out in the Baton Rouge area. I think we were without electricity for over a week back then also. So my point is that burying the lines in Orleans guarantees nothing when the infrastructure of the grid is also falling apart in America.

  7. If a storm like Isaac happens every 10-15 years, I think the ROI would be there. The problem is that Entergy would rather just pass the cost of these repairs down to the consumer. They have little reason to improve on the system of 50+ year old technology that they are still giving us.

    • So the ROI is there, and that “R” would exponentially grow with time.
      + all the $ consumers would save on related expenditures.
      Or is legislation needed to force feed us VE and common sense.
      Will forward to Karen Carter Peterson.
      Thank you again Mr. Waldron-
      and best from Freret,

  8. Tim-
    Great points, but even better observations and for now, that’s the best we can do.
    + I do love to learn, so many thanks and check this out:
    I’m not Richard Campanella-
    – but this map should coincide with the birth of the grid.
    Your location is a blessing and a curse-
    Great by the lake, but your the “last house on a dead end street- so the first to loose power, and last to get it back.”
    Unless we use what you have….
    Just think of all that could be fixed and prevented with one artery.
    Money well spent.
    Uptown= major retrofit.
    That’s why we built-
    and have a natural gas generator…
    This technology/idea/concept is another solution-
    “A picture says a thousand words”- so we give them (for now) to the City Council, media, and others to highlight and expose problems before they becomes and outages.
    Best from Freret,
    Andy Brott

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