Federal Agency Cautions Corps on New Orleans Landfill

June 7, 2006

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has added its voice to a growing chorus of critics worried that a new landfill being built to handle hurricane debris will harm surrounding wetlands.

The landfill is being built next to the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge, a wetlands park in eastern New Orleans. Mayor Ray Nagin approved the site, saying it was necessary to build a new landfill to speed up the cleanup from Hurricane Katrina.

But critics say the landfill will pollute the refuge and surrounding waterways. Critics add that the landfill has a human toll, too, because it will contaminate canals that run through a nearby Vietnamese-American community and foul the air for nearby residents.

The Fish and Wildlife Service expressed similar concerns in a May 19 letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency that must still approve a wetlands permit for the landfill. The letter was provided to The Associated Press by the Sierra Club.

The letter urges the Corps to look at alternative sites for the landfill.

If another site is not available, the letter says, then the Corps ought to make sure that a protective lining is placed in the landfill to stop contaminants from leaking out or allow only vegetative waste to be dumped there.

The letter was written by Russell Watson, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s field supervisor for Louisiana. The wildlife agency does not have regulatory authority over the landfill and acts only as an adviser to the Corps.

Eric Hughes, a Corps spokesman, said it would be premature to comment.

The Corps allowed work to move forward on the site before issuing a permit, which has outraged environmentalists.

“The way these things are supposed to work is you get the permit and then you start operating,” said Darryl Malek-Wiley of the Sierra Club’s Delta Chapter. “But in this case it’s been totally backwards.”

The landfill is operated by Waste Management and it would be able to take in up to 6.5 million cubic feet of debris, the letter said.

At over 80 feet in height, the landfill would be a “debris mountain,” Watson said in a telephone interview.

“That would be a brand new land form that would degrade the aesthetic views of the Bayou Sauvage National Refuge,” he said.

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