October 6, 2023 7:00am

Salt in the river, the cost of Avondale and a life or death decision

Power Poll New Orleans results on three key issues

Photo of Drew Broach
New Orleans, LA Correspondent
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With a salt intrusion threatening the drinking water for almost 900,000 people in southeast Louisiana, most community influencers express confidence in public officials’ ability to resolve the crisis, according to Power Poll New Orleans.

One third of respondents, however, are not so optimistic.

“Relying on government bodies to fix this problem timely is akin to waiting for FEMA to assist rebuilding your house after a disaster,” said Charles Talley, partner at the Kean Miller law firm. “And if the [New Orleans] Sewerage & Water Board is involved in any way, the problem won't be fixed until next year, if at all.”

Michael Holly, founder of Holly and Smith Architects, suggested looking elsewhere for a temporary — and permanent — supply of drinking water.

“I rather doubt that government can deal with this issue effectively. The only solution is to provide fresh water from other sources until it is no longer a threat,” Holly said. “The long-term solution is to find another source other than the Mississippi River, which carries with it questionable runoff.”

The four parishes under the salt siege — Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines and St. Bernard — have been sharing information but for the most part are working out their own solutions. Bob Thomas, environmental communications professor at Loyola University, sees a better way next time.

“Regarding the occasionally recurring saltwater wedge, we need to heed the call for a regional solution,” he said. “This one must be addressed, and it automatically affects all parishes/communities.”

New Orleans and Jefferson are working to install temporary pipelines on the east bank, to move fresh water from upriver near Kenner down to their purification plants. Jefferson is doing the same on the West Bank.

In Algiers, Gretna, Plaquemines and St. Bernard parishes, which have smaller treatment plants, the solution could include reverse osmosis equipment for desalination or having the Army Corps of Engineers barge in fresh water to mix into purification plants.


On another matter of public interest, half of Power Poll respondents frown on the Port of South Louisiana’s request to borrow $445 million to buy the former Avondale Shipyard. One third expressed no opinion.

“Louisiana is facing a number of slow-moving and pending disasters. The idea that we would cough up almost half a billion dollars for another bit of corporate welfare is simply outrageous,” said Andreanecia Morris, executive director of HousingNOLA.”

Conrad Appel, a former state senator and Port of New Orleans chairperson, also thinks the cost is too much.

“A good business decision would be to let the owner of Avondale continue to try to make it work. If they fail, then we could consider buying it at a greatly reduced price,” Appel said. “Either way would be a win for the taxpayers and the region.

“Buying it at an inflated price with no assurance of future activity equates to 'if we build it, they will come.’ That never works.”

The Port of South Louisiana request is pending before the state Bond Commission.

Life or death

A key decision in the final months of Gov. John Bel Edwards’ second term will be whether he commutes the death sentences for 55 inmates to life imprisonment. Edwards disclosed earlier this year that he opposes the death penalty, and his Board of Pardons and Committee on Parole has been moving to consider the inmates’ requests — over the opposition of Attorney General Jeff Landry, the leading candidate to succeed Edwards.

Power Poll members were sharply divided over whether Edwards should grant clemency — and whether he will.

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About Power Poll: Power Poll asks questions of the most powerful, influential people in U.S. cities. It is not a scientific survey. But because the people responding to the surveys comprise the leadership structure of their cities, the results afford a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts, opinions, and beliefs of those in a position to make change. Power Poll is distinctly nonpartisan.

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