On Tuesday a unanimous East Ascension Drainage Board elected Parish Councilwoman Teri Casso to its chair; former chairman, Councilman Dempsey Lambert was elected as Vice Chairman without opposition. The ten-member board, comprised of each Parish Council member sitting Ex Officio, convened for its first meeting of the last year of their current office terms. Election year upon them, don’t expect much in the way of bold action though a fire at Marvin Braud Pump Station disabling Ascension’s most valuable asset during a rain event merited acute examination.
Three of the pumps suffered burn damage after a fire broke out on Friday, December 30 around 11:30 a.m. According to Ron Savoy (currently designated Assistant Drainage Director & Operations Manager) the fire was contained by on-site personnel but the all pumps were stopped to assess damage and operational viability. Water gauges in proximity to MBPS indicated a significant rise in levels almost immediately.
By 8:30 p.m. that day contractors advised that the use of non-damaged pumps could be initiated and immediate drop in the water level was achieved, decreasing to 0-.5′ by Sunday (January 1) as more rain was anticipated by January 3. Four pumps are currently operational with a fifth expected to come online by today as further investigation to pinpoint all possible causes will continue for another week or two.
A “drop in air pressure” directly caused the fire, due to a 2″ in airline failure, with four additional factors contributing to the incident’s severity:
- Air failure in a single spot with no protective measures built into the system to isolate the problem;
- No automatic transfer to switch from electric air compressor to diesel-powered back up;
- Solid metal guards prevented fire extinguisher product from reaching fire source; and
- Low air pressure alarm not functional, low pressure sensor faulty.
Corrective measures will be considered, relying upon outside firms including Ardurra Group, Inc. to offer recommendations while conceding the need for overall upgrades to the 30-year old facility called McElroy Pump Station when the original five pumps went operational in 1991. A sixth pump was added in 2013 and a seventh in 2017.
“These pumps are old,” President Clint Cointment addressed the Board. “A lot of (the replacement) parts, they don’t make anymore. We really need to start budgeting for new engines.”
Cointment targeted the original five pumps to be replaced as parts inevitably wear out. And they were designed to accommodate ten-year storm events, events routinely exceeded three decades after the station opened. He envisioned a scenario in which replacement parts would need to be manufactured specially for the Marvin Braud system, a costly process to say the least. Cointment recommended “allocation of yearly sums” from EA Drainage $20+ million annual revenues toward pump replacement.
“To think that a two-inch air line holding 300 lbs of pressure can destroy those seven pumps, the most precious piece of infrastructure we own…How do we not have a pressure transmitter and automatic shutoff valve,” wondered outgoing EA Drainage Chairman Chase Melancon aloud in a rare moment of circumspection. “It’s 1995 technology (and) we really need to modernize.”
Meanwhile, to the north at Henderson Bayou’s pump system the issues are different. The pump station design means “we can’t open the gates until we hit (water) elevation 4′,” explained President Cointment. Drainage arteries flowing to Marvin Braud are routinely pumped down to zero in anticipation of rain events, even lower in those flowing toward the pumps in Sorrento (negative 2′ or 3′) according to the parish president.