New Orleans won a major green infrastructure grant. The Gentilly projects are all delayed.

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Mayor LaToya Cantrell Travels the World Proudly Embracing New Orleans Green infrastructurean umbrella term that includes lakes, parks, and other natural areas designed to capture and absorb water from increasingly powerful storms.

The mayor’s plan to “live with water,” as his oft-repeated mantra goes, is a series of federally funded projects known as the Gentilly Resilience District. But after seven years of winning $141 million in grants to build massive projects, the administration has little to be proud of.

The projects include rebuilding the Elysian Fields neutral fields and converting 25 acres of land on Mirabeau Avenue to a roundabout. Mirabeau Water GardenIt is expected to reduce road flooding from bad storms by more than a foot in some areas. However, none of the marquee projects have gone up for auction yet. Completed designs are gathering dust, construction schedules are repeatedly pushed back and community engagement meetings are fading from memory.

“We had meetings. “We had a plan for what we were going to do,” said Ketb Nuri-Alim Shunar, a Gentile resident who has attended eight community meetings about the projects and is a supporter of the project. “Next thing everything is dead. Meetings are dead. Conversations are dead. Emails are dead. The movement is dead.

Ketb Nouri-Alim Shunar is photographed at Filmore Playground in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023. (Photo by Scott Trickeld, The Times-Picayune)

Although city officials have been able to point to some green infrastructure improvements in other programs in recent years, the redistricting missed a deadline and fell behind other grant recipients in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s National Disaster Resilience Competition.

New Orleans won the second largest HUD grant in 2016 out of 13 cities and states. So far, the city has spent $22 million, or 16 percent of the award, most of which has been spent on consultants, design and community meetings. . That’s the second-lowest rate of any aid recipient and has earned New Orleans the nickname “slow spender.”

“We’re not leading the pace anymore,” said David Wagoner, a consultant on the projects. “New Orleans has led the world in climate adaptation for a while. But you have to build.

Big dollars, few results

Collectively, the Gentile Resilience District projects are designed to capture nearly 50 million gallons of stormwater. In addition to reducing flooding in low-lying areas by diverting rain before it overwhelms the city’s drainage system, the projects will add new amenities.

Linear parks and canals replace the neutral terrain of the Elysian Fields. Residential blocks are transformed by transformable walkways and rain gardens. A 27-acre city-owned woodland next to Dillard University will be opened to the public and dressed for storm management. The best-known project, the Mirabeau Water Garden, transforms a vacant lot into a natural wetland filtration system with lakes and walkways.

Gentilly Resiliency District goes against the flow in how New Orleans captures stormwater.

This painting, from 2014, provides a view of the proposed Mirabeau Water Garden with Lake Pontchartrain in the background. (Wagoner & Ball Architects)

Early timelines showed construction of the renovation district projects to be completed in 2021 and 2022. Mary Kincaid, the city official who oversees the grant, said the delay is due to a number of factors, some within the city’s control and others not.

In the year The 2019 cyber attack, pandemic and 2019

Some of the plans that call for road work have had to undergo lengthy revisions because they are not coordinated with the ongoing $2 billion citywide road maintenance project. And the Cantrell administration’s decision to “bundle” construction packages into smaller chunks has had the unintended effect of multiplying bureaucratic hurdles to get more organizations to participate, Kincaid said.

Waggoner said the closing “put an administrative burden on the city[that]was too heavy.”

“The idea was that they would distribute the work, and I think that was a mistake,” he said.

In a follow-up statement to Kincaid, the administration also said it had begun a “new approach” to involving residents in the designs of the Gentilly project. According to the administration, studies show that nine out of 10 participants improved their understanding of flood risk through meetings and other dissemination platforms.

More than $100,000 has been spent on 25 community events for one of the projects, called St. Anthony Green Street, said Aaron Chang, who organized the events. Chang said he worries those efforts will turn out to be a waste.

“If all of that doesn’t go out to bid, nothing breaks ground,” said Chang, who moved out of state last year to no longer work on the project. None of it seemed real at one point.

Plans are still in the works.

141 million dollars in the year Kincaid said the Cantrell administration is committed to completing all HUD projects as originally designed, even if it hasn’t moved to date in 2016. She said bond funds could be used to cover any shortfall, even if expenses are defeated. It won’t be known until the bid is released.

She also pointed to recent progress.

He said the Mirabow project could begin soon with the recent signing of a $30 million construction contract expected to be covered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. HUD assistance will be tapped for the second phase, which is still in design.

Ed Sutoris, CEO of the Sisters of St. Joseph, which is leasing the land to the city for $1 a year, said we’re glad to see it moving, but it took a while. The city follows the rain garden. A monastery on the site was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina.

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An uprooted tree splits a brick wall from a twenty-five-acre vacant lot that’s part of the Gentilly Resistance District in New Orleans, Friday, Nov. 17, 2023. (Photo by Chris Granger, The Times – Picayune)

Also, a $6 million program included in the grant to help Gentilly homeowners improve their properties with rain barrels, gutters and tree planting is nearly exhausted. The program has helped 179 low- and moderate-income homeowners, officials said.

Meanwhile, two other green infrastructure projects funded by FEMA also include new parks in downtown and Gentilly to capture canals, underground storage and stormwater. Cantrell called those projects “green infrastructure at its best” in a speech at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland.

“The funding that’s really needed to build these projects requires a significant amount of federal investment,” Cantrell said, praising FEMA for providing more than $20 million. “Big dollars get big results, no doubt.”

The projects Cantrell described could capture 10 million gallons of stormwater, and the administration said plans for other FEMA-approved projects could eventually add to that figure. But those projects have been in the works for years, and timelines for completing them are vague — many of the links to information about them on city websites are broken. Currently completed green infrastructure projects represent only a fraction of the potential projects on the shelf.

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Friday November 17, 2023 Twenty-five acres of land that is part of the Gentile Resistance District in New Orleans. (Photo by Chris Granger, The Times-Picayune)

Kincaid said all redistricting projects will go out to bid in mid-2024.

“The thought and care that goes into a program like this is incredible and multi-layered in so many different departments,” Kincaid said.

HUD has extended the spending deadline three times, most recently to 2029. But a less forgiving presidential administration could easily reverse the decision, said Stan Guimont, a former HUD official who oversaw the grant awards.

“At least for the next year, you’ll have flexibility,” Guimont said. But in the year No one knows what will happen in January 2025 because they have to organize their house and square everything.

Recent delays

Still more delays were seen. At a community meeting in March, Kincaid said $85 million in construction will take place this year on Gentilly Resilience District projects, including a summer groundbreaking on the Aquatic Garden.

None of them came out. Kincaid said the foundations were surprisingly stymied by extensive archaeological assessments, though “it’s a fair question” whether excavations should have been better preserved, she said.

“I wish they would be straight with the residents,” said Schunar, a Gentilly resident who said he attended the March meeting. “If you break your promise to society, they won’t trust you until you prove yourself again.”

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