NEW ORLEANS — An engineering firm hired to oversee the reconstruction of city buildings and infrastructure damaged by Hurricane Katrina has been overcharging the city, including billing for theater tickets and a flight to Las Vegas, an internal investigation found.
The report by New Orleans Inspector General E.R. Quatrevaux said the flawed contract with MWH Americas Inc. has hurt the city's recovery, placing blame on both the company and city officials. The city's slow rebuilding process continues to anger residents, and the uneven recovery was a major issue in the campaign leading up to last month's mayoral election.
Quatrevaux advised scrapping the deal with the Broomfield, Colo.-based firm in the report, first made public Thursday by The Times-Picayune. The company's work previously had not garnered much criticism.
"The city has blindly paid MWH's expenses," the report said, including "a markup of approximately 23 percent" without knowing if that was appropriate.
The report also said city employees and elected officials may have violated ethics laws by accepting gifts or meals from MWH.
MWH was hired in December 2007 by Mayor Ray Nagin's administration to manage the massive rebuilding of city infrastructure after the 2005 storm flooded fire and police stations, parks, community centers and roads. As of February, MWH had been paid $29 million for its work and billed the city for $36 million, the report said.
The probe said the city was paying the firm too much considering the amount of progress made, and that the contract, and its escalating costs, "will have profound consequences for the recovery program."
Hours after Quatrevaux's criticism was made public, one neighborhood leader lamented the recovery.
"It's moving at a snail's pace," said Dennis Scott, the vice president of the Lakewood East Homeowners Association in eastern New Orleans.
"We have a temporary trailer as a library. We still have a police facility that is a temporary building, and a fire station that is still in a trailer. And there's definitely no hospital."
Yes, that's right. STILL no hospital!
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