Union workers at Portland Water Bureau head to New Orleans

By DON McINTOSH, Associate Editor

Trucks and equipment from the City of Portland Water Bureau left for New Orleans Oct. 3 — and on Oct. 8, 35 skilled union workers from the Bureau will fly down to help rebuild New Orleans’ water system, which was damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

They’ll take everything they need to live for 30 days — bottled water, MREs (meals ready to eat), and portable toilets — and set up camp on the grounds of the Carrollton Treatment Facility in New Orleans. By day, they’ll flush pipes, repair main breaks and broken pumps, and do what it takes to restore safe drinking water. At night, they’ll sleep in plastic yurts provided by the U.S. Forest Service. After 30 days of 12-hour shifts, they’ll be relieved by another 35-person Portland Water Bureau crew.

Their day-by-day account of the experience will be posted on a Water Bureau Web site — www.portlandonline.com/water.

All of the employees volunteered for the assignment. So far, Portland is the only city in the nation to donate this kind of skilled help. The day the hurricane hit, Portland Commissioner Randy Leonard, who was given charge of the Water Bureau earlier this year, asked the city’s emergency manager to come up with a plan for how Portland could help. The Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans got word the City of Portland could help, and asked them to send equipment and personnel. Leonard and Mayor Tom Potter gave the go-ahead, and Portland will be sending engineers, construction crews, equipment operators, mechanics, electricians, instrument technicians, emergency response coordinators, and administrative support staff.

When the Portland team arrives, it will function as a mini-Water Bureau, to which the New Orleans water authorities will will cede responsibility for repairing a section of the city.

At an Oct. 3 sendoff event, Leonard lauded cooperation from the unions. “We’re violating about 100 provisions of each of their contracts, and we couldn’t do it without our union brothers and sisters.”

The Portland team includes includes 16 members of American Federation State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 189; two members of Electrical Workers Local 48; two members of Operating Engineers Local 701; and three members of the City of Portland Professional Employees Association, plus three security guards and several managers, including Interim Administrator David Shaff and Chief Engineer Mike Stuhr.

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