Sunday, September 2, 2012

Pace Of Isaac Recovery In JP Slow, Frustrating

There’s an old saying that there are only two absolutes in life: Death and Taxes. I would like to add two more: while Mother Nature may have a sense of humor, she certainly has no sense of irony, and there is no recovery after a storm without electricity.

Despite the advance notice and early warnings that began with 24/7 television coverage on Sunday, when Isaac was just a baby Tropical Storm, and despite the repeated musings of Entergy’s President that there are “12,000 electrical workers here from 24 different states” ready to pick up the pieces as soon as the winds die down, Entergy proved once again that it was either woefully unprepared or is poorly managed.

As of 9:45am Sunday morning, 5 ½ days after Isaac touched down on the Louisiana Coast, over 100,000 locations in Jefferson Parish are still without electricity. The results for Entergy New Orleans, Entergy Louisiana’s sister company that serves Orleans Parish, were even worse: over 107,000 were without power in Orleans.

Driving around East Jefferson on Saturday afternoon, I was struck by the number of businesses that were still without electrical service. Basic human needs like food and gasoline were not available because grocery stores, gas stations and restaurants were sitting idly by waiting for electricity.

While much less devastating than the levee-implosion of Katrina, there was a similar sense of helplessness after Isaac. Stop signs replaced street lights. The few grocery stores that were open did not have the basic staples like bread, eggs and milk. The Salvation Army and Red Cross were serving hot meals to those in need. There were lines on the East and WestBanks of Jefferson Parish with thousands lined up for ice, water and MREs (a term that I hoped I would never hear again). Garbage overflowed from the curbs of Jefferson Parish homeowners as they were required to once again clean out their refrigerators and freezers and dispose of rotted food.

Unlike Katrina, Isaac was a Category 1. While it lingered over Louisiana and took it’s good sweet time before moving on (much like folks shopping at Wal-Mart), it was still just a Category 1, a veritable mosquito bite compared to the destruction caused by the Army Corps and Katrina.

After Katrina, there were trees down on almost every street. Electric polls were either ripped from the ground or at angles looking like little Leaning Towers of Pisa. The stench from the rotten food, disgusting refrigerators and freezers, mold and death were everywhere. Businesses were closed for weeks and months while owners and workers cleaned up and they, along with residents, waited for Entergy.

And, after Isaac, we’re still waiting for Entergy.

Over 100,000 still without power. Electrical trucks sitting idly in parking lots. Frustrated residents and business owners. And now, we can add one more category to the list: frustrated politicians that have stopped apologizing for Entergy.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, politicians in Jefferson and Orleans couldn’t stop tripping over themselves telling every media outlet that Entergy would be out there in full force as soon as the winds got below 35 mph.

Parish President John Young and Kenner Mayor Mike Yenni, and others, repeatedly brought up the multiple briefings they had with Entergy officials, parroted the “12,000 electrical workers from 24 states” line, and patted Entergy on the back so much that they themselves may have actually believed the words they were saying (a common problem among politicians).

Well, now the tide is turning.

Probably getting tired of hearing the constant complaints from his constituents, President Young is now on the offensive lashing out at Entergy.

"It is not usually our style to confront and criticize a company like Entergy," Young said. "But unfortunately it is necessary for us to do this at this time."

"We have gotten a lot of talk," from the power company, he said. "We have gotten little action."

If you don’t have your Political-speak Decoder Ring on, John Young is getting mad.

"We would be ready to get back to business today, but for Entergy," he said. "There's a lack of a sense of urgency."

It’s nice to see that our elected officials are finally criticizing the Sacred Cow that is Entergy rather than apologizing for Entergy’s lack of planning, poor response or management.

Young, in fact, has called on the Public Service Commission to investigate and fine Entergy. He has also said that Entergy’s shareholders should fire the company’s CEO.

He has also taken the additional steps of trying to lobby other elected officials to support his cause. I’ve confirmed that Young called Kenner Mayor Yenni to discuss garnering Yenni’s support (which will no doubt occur although a little late in the game).

Political grandstanding? Maybe. But, while it may be the first time that an elected official has chastised Entergy, it’s certainly not the first time a politician has climbed up on a soapbox and after finally hearing his constituents and seeing the way the political winds are blowing. It may have taken a little prodding from his political consultant, a poll, or the whining of his family members who may also be without power (or call me a cynic but it could have been the complaints from his political contributors whose businesses were still in the dark and not generating money to supply those large political contributions), but, for whatever reason, John Young (and even a late to the game Mike Yenni) are standing up for the frustrated masses in Jefferson Parish.  

Will Young’s protests do any good? Time will tell. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait 7 years after Isaac for another poor performance from Entergy. More importantly, the 100,000 in JP without power shouldn’t have to wait another 7 hours without electricity.