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Mayor defends New Orleans after Super Bowl outage

By KEVIN McGILL and MICHAEL KUNZELMAN - Associated Press
    2013-02-06 03:45

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - New Orleans' mayor defended his city days after a power outage plunged the Super Bowl into 34 minutes of darkness, while authorities still baffled by the cause announced they were bringing in a consultant to help investigate.

The outage that embarrassed New Orleans as it sought to showcase its rebound from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina happened despite hundreds of thousands of dollars of improvements to decaying utility lines, documents show.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu sought to put an upbeat spin on the matter at a news conference Tuesday, saying the city's performance as host was near flawless despite the lights-out episode.

``The 34 minutes of darkness will never overshadow or outshine the city of New Orleans and how we performed this Super Bowl week,'' Landrieu said.

He also said the outage won't pull the plug on city plans to bid for an 11th Super Bowl in 2018. It last hosted a Super Bowl in 2002, three years before Katrina swamped the city.

Concerned the Superdome might not be able to handle the energy needed for its first Super Bowl since Katrina, officials spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on upgrades to decayed utility lines, according to the documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The improvements apparently weren't enough, however, to prevent the glaring third quarter outage that was as much talked about as the Baltimore Ravens' 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

Still, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the city did a terrific job hosting this time. ``I fully expect that we will be back here for Super Bowls,'' he said.

On Tuesday, Superdome officials and the power provider Entergy New Orleans said they had failed to find a cause for the outage. They added they would hire a consultant to analyze their data. It wasn't clear how long an investigation would take.

``We thought it was important to get another party looking at this to make sure we were looking at everything that we need to,'' Entergy spokesman Chanel Lagarde said.

Tests on the electrical feeders that connect incoming power from utility lines to the stadium showed decay and ``a chance of failure,'' state officials warned in a memo dated Oct. 15. The documents also show that Entergy expressed concern about the reliability of the service before the Super Bowl.

The memo said Entergy and the Superdome's engineering staff ``had concerns regarding the reliability of the Dome service from Entergy's connection point to the Dome.''

The memo was prepared for the Louisiana Stadium & Exposition District, the state body responsible for the Superdome.

Authorities subsequently authorized spending nearly $1 million on Superdome improvements, including more than $600,000 for upgrading the dome's electrical feeder cable system, work that was done in December.

``As discussed in previous board meetings, this enhancement is necessary to maintain both the Superdome and the New Orleans Arena as top tier facilities, and to ensure that we do not experience any electrical issues during the Super Bowl,'' said an LSED document dated Dec. 19.

Superdome commission records show a $513,250 contract to replace feeder cables was awarded to Louisiana-based Allstar Electric. Arthur Westbrook, Allstar's project manager for the job, referred all questions to the management company.

A lawyer for the LSED, Larry Roedel, said a preliminary investigation found the replacement work in December did not appear to have caused Sunday's outage.

And meters showed the 76,000-seat stadium was drawing no more electricity than it does during a typical New Orleans Saints game, according to Doug Thornton, vice president for the Superdome's management company, SMG

He also ruled out Beyonce's halftime performance. She brought her own generator.

Officials with the utility and the Superdome were quick to note that an NFL game, the Sugar Bowl and the New Orleans Bowl also were played there in recent weeks.

Both Entergy and SMG said Sunday that an ``abnormality'' occurred where stadium equipment intersects with an Entergy electric feed, causing a breaker to create the outage. It remained unclear what the abnormality was or why it occurred.

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