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New Orleans streetlight work stopped over red tape

NEW ORLEANS — Federal red tape has forced Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration to temporarily suspend its aggressive effort to repair broken streetlights in New Orleans. Through Sept. 30, Deputy Mayor Cedric Grant said contractors had fixed 10,373 light outages reported by residents, leaving a backlog of about 1,720.

The Times-Picayune reports (http://bit.ly/tMatAF ) the last streetlight repairs were completed in early October.

By law, he said the city must complete an environmental impact review before spending that money.

Grant, who made the revelation during the council's review of the proposed 2012 budget for the city's Department of Public Works, said he is working with Housing and Urban Development officials, who oversee the grant money, and hopes to resume repairs before Dec. 1.

Once the city completes the necessary paperwork and gets the OK to move forward, Grant said his staff is confident that the backlog can be cleared by year's end. The contractor awarded the bid is standing by, he said.

Responding to priorities culled from a series of community meetings, the Landrieu administration has placed a priority on filling potholes, cleaning catch basins, paving streets and repairing streetlights.

As part of his presentation, Grant also outlined the administration's plans to invest $286.3 million in brick-and-mortar projects next year.

The bulk of the capital budget will come in the form of FEMA reimbursements for damage related to Hurricane Katrina. Grant said the city has already secured $101 million in reimbursements and is anticipating $90 million more.

The next highest portion of the budget -- $40 million -- will come from the sale of bonds approved by New Orleans voters in 2004. Grant, who said the bond sale is planned for June, told council members that the administration does not anticipate that a tax increase will be needed to pay down the debt.

The rest of the capital spending will come from a federal road fund, a taxing district dedicated to law enforcement and state capital dollars.

More than $208 million of the budget is allocated for street repairs, with $47.8 million going to government buildings and $22.8 million earmarked for public safety projects. The administration also plans to spend $6.4 million on parks and recreation improvements and $1.2 million on libraries.

Among the projects the city plans to break ground on in 2012 are Milne Boys Home, the Youth Study Center, Stallings and Lyons centers, Comiskey Park, Wesley Barrow stadium and the Pete Sanchez Community Center.

In 2011, Grant said the city is on schedule to complete 68 recovery projects, with an investment of nearly $122 million.

Council members commended Grant for overseeing the vast array of construction work that has rolled out since Landrieu took office in May 2010.

Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer said she is not sure if New Orleanians fully appreciate the magnitude of the accomplishment. "It's a tremendous undertaking, " she said.

Council President Jackie Clarkson said Grant has "promised nothing that can't be done," adding "it's all for real."

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