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S&WB Doesn’t Know Why Turbine Exploded This Weekend

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Travis Lux
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WWNO
A turbine housed at the Sewerage and Water Board's facility Uptown exploded on Saturday, December 14th. As of Wednesday, the SWB says it does not yet know the cause of the incident.

The Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans says it does not yet know why one of its power turbines exploded over the weekend.

The pumps that drain city streets when it rains are powered primarily by six large, old turbines, all of which are housed in a series of buildings Uptown. On Saturday, one of the turbines (Turbine 5, or T5) exploded -- injuring several workers.

At a board of directors meeting Wednesday morning, Sewerage and Water Board Executive Director Ghassan Korban said an investigation had begun, but the cause of the explosion was still unknown. He added that the damage might have been much worse, had it not been for the quick thinking of an employee, Lee Rogers, who shut off a gas line right after the initial explosion.

“To me, that was more than heroic,” Korban said of Rogers. “[That] could have, I mean, averted a potential catastrophe.”

Korban said the utility is weighing whether it should repair Turbine 5 or build a new one. Building a new turbine could take more than a year, he said.

Korban emphasized that the utility had reached a point with its repairs to power-generating turbines that it was capable of producing more power than was necessary to run the whole system of pumps at full steam. That is still the case, but now there is reduced backup capacity.

Turbine 5 exploded on Saturday, December 14th due to still unknown reasons. The Sewerage and Water Board says it still has enough capacity to power the entire drainage system at full steam -- even with Turbine # 5 offline.
Credit Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans
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Turbine 5 exploded on Saturday, December 14th due to still unknown reasons. The Sewerage and Water Board says it still has enough capacity to power the entire drainage system at full steam -- even with Turbine 5 offline.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell, who also serves as the president of the Sewerage and Water Board’s board of directors, renewed her call to transition the utility away from generating its own power, and toward relying more on power supplied by Entergy.

The board of directors also approved two separate budgets for the upcoming year: a $281 million operating budget and a $325 million capital budget (for major construction projects and repairs). The 2020 capital budget is about twice as large as the 2019 approved budget ($166 million) -- something made possible in part by the so-called “fair share” agreement negotiated earlier this year between the City of New Orleans, the State of Louisiana, and leaders of the tourism industry.

As Coastal Reporter, Travis Lux covers flood protection, coastal restoration, infrastructure, the energy and seafood industries, and the environment. In this role he's reported on everything from pipeline protests in the Atchafalaya swamp, to how shrimpers cope with low prices. He had a big hand in producing the series, New Orleans: Ready Or Not?, which examined how prepared New Orleans is for a future with more extreme weather. In 2017, Travis co-produced two episodes of TriPod: New Orleans at 300 examining New Orleans' historic efforts at flood protection. One episode, NOLA vs Nature: The Other Biggest Flood in New Orleans History, was recognized with awards from the Public Radio News Directors and the New Orleans Press Club. His stories often find a wider audience on national programs, too, like NPR's Morning Edition, WBUR's Here and Now, and WHYY's The Pulse.

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