More Than A Recovery: Working Hard In The Big Easy

By Erin Nelsen, Online Editor | April 2010 Vol. 237 No. 4

“The first year we got a little over 30 miles, a little under the $577,000–a-mile rate,” he explained. “The next year we got a little better, in the 50-mile range, and we were able to keep it a little under what we did the year before. Going into this third year, we saw some ways we could really save some dollars.”

The team cut cost per pipe-mile from around $150,000 to around $50,000 with the idea to move mains just to the side of sidewalks instead of directly underneath, saving thousands in concrete costs for repairing the sidewalks. With that innovation and a better method of paying for meter installation, the 2009 results clocked in at 63 miles — 26% more than planned — and $4 million under budget.

A & L Underground, lead contractors on the project’s first leg, found the speed and extent of the job the highlight of the work. The trenchless directional drilling methods they employed also helped minimize the disruption the project piled on to the work already facing residents. “People here have been damaged enough,” said Fred Harrah, A & L’s vice president of operations. “We need to try to save as much of their yards and sidewalks as possible.”

The effectiveness of the project caught the eye of the Platts Global Energy Awards council, which honored Entergy with the inaugural Infrastructure Project of the Year Award in December 2009 for the New Orleans rebuild. The award recognizes “significant achievement in bringing a much-needed, high-profile energy project online in a timely manner.”

As the project manager, Dufrene could perhaps claim a lion’s share of the credit. But he spotlights the cooperation between upper management, planning and the people charged with deploying the plan. “It is truly an organizational award. It’s not just three or four people. This could not happen unless we had everybody working on the same page — and that’s what we have.”

December 2009 also marked the meeting in which ENO presented its results to the City Council to determine if the project would continue. With the targets exceeded, the budget well in the black and the project as a whole garnering international recognition for the city’s renewal, it was no surprise when the council applauded the progress — “a tremendous ‘attaboy’ for this team,” according to Winslow. The second three-year term is now under way.

Perhaps the most important success the project has had so far, though, is with its customers, whose ranks are back up to 96,000 as of the beginning of 2010. Water-related gas outages are down 50%. With fewer reminders of Katrina’s devastation every day, better service has meant contented clients.

Winslow notes, “The further along we got in this project, the more community response turned from a concern with outages to pride. One thing about being in the utility business is that you want to hear from customers, but you usually hear from them more when they’re not happy. They are happy — we’ve had folks stand up and take notice.”

For a utility as involved with its community as ENO, that’s a satisfaction to savor for a long time.