Any electrician can now do inspections
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
By Bruce Eggler
New Orleans' handful of city electrical inspectors, perhaps the most in-demand people in town for the past four months, could be about to find out how the Maytag repairman, "the loneliest guy in town," felt in all those TV ads.
The city has suspended requirements that
city inspectors must sign off on all electrical work
done by contractors, whether on permanent buildings or
on temporary housing such as trailers.
Mayor Ray Nagin also has agreed to suspend the requirement that the city's Housing Conservation District Review Committee review the proposed demolition of many buildings in older neighborhoods.
The actions all are designed to eliminate the red tape that officials said has been holding up the city's recovery from Hurricane Katrina.
An online form, available at the city's Web site, www.cityofno.com, allows any licensed electrician or electrical contractor to certify that work performed or inspected meets all requirements of the International Building Code.
Nagin's office announced two weeks ago that the city would no longer require permits for electrical inspections of individual trailers, "to expedite the trailer process and to offer more temporary housing for returning residents." In some cases, residents said they had to wait weeks for a city inspector after getting a temporary utility pole for their trailer.
That suspension now has been extended to buildings as well as trailers, in accordance with an ordinance passed Jan. 19 by the City Council and signed Friday by Nagin.
In all, Nagin signed four ordinances the council passed unanimously Jan. 19 under an emergency procedure that lets members vote on an ordinance the same day it is introduced. Normally, they have to wait until the next meeting before voting.
The four ordinances:
-- Authorize any licensed electrician or electrical contractor "to conduct electrical inspections on commercial and residential properties" and certify that the work was done properly, eliminating the requirement that city inspectors must OK the work. This provision will remain in effect "for the duration of emergency procedures."
-- For one year, authorize the three large companies in charge of installing travel trailers in the city -- the Shaw Group, Fluor Corp. and CH2M Hill -- to inspect and approve electrical connections to the trailers, eliminating the need for city inspections before Entergy can turn on the power.
-- For one year, suspend the requirement for city inspections and allow Cox Communications to certify that connections to its cable TV or other communications equipment were done by certified, licensed electricians and in compliance with the city's building code.
-- Eliminate the requirement that the city's Housing Conservation District Review Committee must review the proposed demolition of any buildings that "have been determined by the Department of Safety and Permits to be substantially damaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and where the damage is defined as 50 percent or more of the replacement value prior to the hurricane damage."
The housing committee normally must review all proposed demolitions in older neighborhoods not under the jurisdiction of the Historic District Landmarks Commission or the Vieux Carre Commission. But it is accustomed to handling fewer than a dozen requests a month, not the hundreds or thousands it might have to deal with in the aftermath of Katrina.
Safety and Permits Department officials had warned earlier that it would not be safe to allow electricians and contractors to certify their own work. But the council and administration said they were responding to a torrent of complaints that the dearth of city inspectors has been preventing people from getting power to their trailers and getting other work done.
Nagin and the council also agreed a few weeks ago to waive fees for city building, mechanical, electrical and gas permits through March 31 if the applicant applies for them online or by fax.
That move was intended to encourage more people to apply for permits by those methods, thus helping to reduce the long lines at the Safety and Permits Department in City Hall.
The free online access to permits is available on the city's Web site and through electronic kiosks on the seventh and eighth floors of City Hall.
Citizens applying by fax must use a special permit form available on the Web site or at the Safety and Permits office. The fax line is (504) 658-7210.
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Bruce Eggler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (504) 826-3320