USFilter quietly folds its New Orleans tent

Saturday August 16, 2003

By Martha Carr,
Bruce Eggler, Staff writers

One company has packed up and moved out. Another hasn't appeared around town in a year and a half. And now a third has closed its downtown office and moved its point man to a home office in Lakeview.

Could the city's privatization drive be headed for the big flush?

Don't count on it, said officials with USFilter, which recently shuttered its Carondelet Street office and instructed David Smith, vice president in charge of the New Orleans project, to work out of his home.

USFilter remains committed to submitting a bid to run the city's water and sewer systems. The company is simply trying to cut costs while it waits for the Sewerage & Water Board to finalize the bid specifications, spokesman Scott Edwards said.

"All we are talking about is one guy and a secretary working at one office, moving into his house," said Edwards, who noted that Smith has always had a home office and that USFilter has several other offices in the metro area. "It's a simple matter of having office space we don't need. This doesn't relate in any material way to our bid."

Since late 2000, the California-based company has spent more than $3.5 million in the hopes of landing the 20-year, roughly $1.5 billion contract, Edwards said. In recent months, however, it has scaled back its spending by eliminating the 2,500-square-foot office and putting its team of local
consultants on hold.

USFilter is also waiting to see if other companies get involved, Smith said. Last month, the water board voted to kill the process if only one private company responds to the request for proposals once it's issued.

Meanwhile, "USFilter continues its holding pattern," Edwards said.