Lawsuit asks for more oversight of Sewerage and Water Board

NEW ORLEANS -- Standing in front of a flood-damaged church on Orleans Avenue this morning, Shawon Bernard explained just how close her church, the Sixth Union Baptist Church, had come to re-opening for the first time since Hurricane Katrina.

"We were one license away from occupying," said Bernard.

Then, the almost 150-year-old church in Treme flooded in July. Then, it flooded again in August.

Two floods in two months were too much for Bernard.

"As a result of the flooding, we had to tear down walls. We had to replace wiring. And, now we are set back, not because of any actions of our doing, but because of the negligence that Sewerage and Water Board and city officials failed us."

The New Orleans Peoples Assembly and lawyers from the Loyola Law Clinic stood with Bernard and announced that they had filed a lawsuit against the Sewerage and Water Board. Davida Finger, a lawyer with the Loyola Law Clinic, said the lawsuit isn't about money. She said it is asking for accountability.

"What our clients are really wanting to work toward is building a system of accountability and oversight," said Finger. "And, the system has not been able to do that for itself. So, we are asking for judicial oversight to help make sure that can happen."

Finger said the lawsuit asks the judge to require the  Sewerage and Water Board to:

  • focus on building a working pump system
  • include citizen participation in oversight of the board
  • post pump logs regularly in an easily read format
  • allow public to monitor pumps and power to the pumps in real time
  • create a warning system pump and drainage problems, and
  • explain problems with the pumps in plain language in time for residents to take precautions.