Houston PW Director Discusses "Surviving The Storms”

January 2009 Vol. 64 No. 1

The city of Houston Public Works and Engineering Department Director Michael Marcotte addressed the December luncheon of the Gulf Coast Trenchless Association on Dec. 10. About 150 people were on hand to hear the presentation.

Marcotte discussed how Houston was “Surviving The Fall Storms.” The first storm was Hurricane Ike which struck southeast Texas on Sept. 13. He explained that there were four key areas that the public works department had to focus on immediately as part of the recovery efforts.

The first area of focus was repressurization of the public water system. Next, debris removal from public streets was a very high priority. Marcotte pointed out that Hurricane Ike made landfall at roughly 2 a.m. Saturday (Sept. 13) morning, and by 10:30 a.m., city crews were already starting the street clean-up.

Other major areas of concern were traffic signal system restoration and the wastewater system recovery. Marcotte said that at its peak, the city was utilizing 80 generators to keep the wastewater system in operation while waiting for restoration of electricity and repairs were underway. It took about three weeks for substantial recovery of the wastewater system, he said.

Among the lessons learned, Marcotte said, were revisiting the organizational structure and work schedule during a long-term emergency, and modifying facilities to provide for a generator and/or pump quick connection system.

The second fall “storm” to strike Houston was the current financial crisis. Among the impacts experienced so far by the city is a one-third to one-half reduction of private developments. One of the city’s responses to those economic concerns is a rescheduling of capital projects from a five-year CIP to a six-year CIP. However, budgets for drainage systems improvements, which include wastewater, will be retained as scheduled.

The GCTA’s next regularly scheduled luncheon is for Feb. 11. For details, go to www.gctaonline.org.