Monday, January 11, 2010

An age when tourists become more important than water

Yesterday I pointed out that had Music City Center actually been existing this past weekend and holding its capacity of conventions (boosters say it will be able to manage 3 at one time) with Saturday's water main breaks, the results might have been catastrophic. As you can see from this News 2 report, the broken mains and resulting flooding shut down sidewalks, streets and businesses while amounting to big losses Saturday, Sunday, and Monday:

Several downtown blocks remain shutdown Monday after multiple water main breaks over the weekend.

Broadway between Third Avenue and Riverfront Park is closed, along with Second Avenue from Commerce Street to the north and Demonbreun Street to the south.

Sonia Harvat, spokesperson for Metro Water Services, told News 2 Sunday the utility will hire a company to lay replacement pipes but that will take a few days and businesses in the area could be without water for at least another day.

"There are still people without water," said Harvat, referencing businesses like BB King's and the Wildhorse Saloon. "As a matter of fact, all of the businesses on Second Avenue were without water all [Saturday] and into [Sunday] morning."

CM Mike Jameson told Pith in the Wind today that the initial estimates for replacing the century-old mains are in the millions:
"They fixed it and then it rebroke. These are pipes that were put in, I kid you not, beginning in the 1890s. The most recent pipe we have there is a vintage 1910. So they're going to replace the whole thing. We're talking about from First Avenue up Broad to the courthouse and then both directions of Second Avenue. The initial estimate was we can get this done in about four weeks. Now they're beyond three months. Initial estimates were at $4 million. Now they've just stopped calculating."
The real problem here is that the industry-influenced courthouse culture has put growth ahead of instrastructure. That's like putting the cart before the horse. They're willing to build a high-tech tourist box on top of a horse-and-buggy-era water system without a second thought to consequences if the weather turns as bad as it has since Christmas.

Nashville has neglected its infrastructure for decades and now the chickens are coming home to roost for Downtown businesses. But I can guarantee you the merchants won't see the lesson in these losses. They'll somehow twist it into a case for the Music City Center. That's misguided and brash when the problem that needs fixing is the infrastructure hidden under their feet. Nashville leaders have somehow turned priorities inside out by placing growth ahead of infrastructure as if cosmetic surgery can be performed on a boneless, frameless bag of skin. This weekend showed the folly of such an approach.

If the Chamber of Commerce and other corporate interests had buckled down while times were good with the proverbial weather fair, we might have a state-of-the-art retrofit for our water system providing a strong foundation for a convention center with low risk of catastrophic failure under duress. Having a football stadium, hockey arena, and new convention center are little solace when your water goes out for days thanks to our reliance on technology developed in the late 19th Century. And failures sure as hell won't satisfy unlucky tourists who happen to visit Nashville at the time.

But now we are forced to pay to make repairs; and on top of those expenses, Nashville will pay for water damage and worker overtime and for any other extra expense that might have been avoided had we committed to attend to our crumbling infrastructure. In the meantime, Metro Council is moving to approve the Music City Center, which will sap money that could be used to cover the cost of our infrastructure losses. Everything is backwards.

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