State Won’t Challenge Closure of New Orleans Hurricane Landfill

July 27, 2006

State environmental officials in Louisiana have promised not to challenge whatever decision is made by New Orleans officials about the future of a landfill opened in the eastern part of the city to handle debris from Hurricane Katrina.

But the Department of Environmental Quality has warned Mayor Ray Nagin that the planned Aug. 14 closure of the Chef Menteur landfill will slow the city’s recovery and could cost the city a significant amount of money.

Opponents of the landfill, which is located near a large Vietnamese community, say two new scientific reports support their claim that the landfill contains hazardous household and other wastes mixed in with construction and demolition debris.

DEQ challenges the validity of those studies.

Nagin, who issued an executive order in February letting the landfill open on an emergency basis to speed the removal of hurricane debris, said on July 13 that he would not renew his order when it expires Aug. 14. Some opponents had feared that DEQ and the facility’s operator, Waste Management of Louisiana, might try to keep it open past that date.

But in a letter to the city, DEQ Assistant Secretary Chuck Carr said the state will accept the city’s decision, although it disagrees with Nagin’s action.

“We feel it is our responsibility to inform you of the potential consequences, including significantly impeding disaster clean-up and recovery,” he said.

By closing the landfill, the city likely will cut the number of houses that can be demolished daily by half, Carr wrote. That would double the timetable for demolishing flooded homes from six months to more than a year, he said.

Carr also warned that after Dec. 31, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is now picking up the full cost of demolitions and debris disposal, will require the city to pay 10 percent of the tab.

Joel Waltzer, an attorney for two groups that have been trying to close the landfill, said he was happy the state will abide by local officials’ decision.

But Waltzer, who represents the Louisiana Environmental Action Network and the Coalition for a Strong New Orleans East, said DEQ is still refusing to address scientific concerns about the dump and to discuss alternative solutions for disposing of debris.

Information from: The Times-Picayune,

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