Disaster News Network Print This
 

No easy answers in Big Easy

Tons of debris from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have been dumped into landfills created near minority communities in the New Orleans area and could pose a risk to surrounding land and waterways, a Congressional committee was told Monday.

BY P.J. HELLER | NEW ORLEANS, La. | February 27, 2007


"Although there are many signs of hope, much of the devastation from Katrina is still all too clear."

—U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer


Tons of debris from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have been dumped into landfills created near minority communities in the New Orleans area and could pose a risk to surrounding land and waterways, a Congressional committee was told Monday.

"Landfills have usually been created near minority communities which neither have the organization, the voice, nor the resources to fight for their rights to an equal, healthy environment," said the Rev. Vien The Nguyen of the Mary Queen of Viet Nam Church and a representative of Citizens for a Strong New Orleans East, a coalition of 32 local homeowner associations.

"Hurricanes Katrina and Rita were natural catastrophes which wreaked a lot of unavoidable havocs," he said. "They become tragedies when people create additional avoidable harms to their communities and the environment."

In his written testimony, Nguyen urged the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works to launch federal investigations into the debris removal activities, including the more than 200 illegal dump sites throughout the state that have been identified by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ).

He also called for the cleanup and closure of the Chef Menteur landfill, located in wetlands and about one mile from the Vietnamese-American community of Village de L'Est. After Katrina, the LDEQ expanded the types of debris that could be dumped directly on the ground there to include household furniture, treated wood, asbestos-containing materials and drywall wallboards.

U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., a member of the Senate committee, criticized the growth of illegal dumping and a lack of enforcement to prevent it.

Mike D. McDaniel, secretary of LDEQ, recommended the EPA develop national guidelines that provide "environmental regulatory flexibility" to deal with debris issues in an emergency.

McDaniel said Katrina and Rita generated more than 62 million cubic yards of debris, enough to fill the Louisiana Superdome more than 10 times.

"The removal and proper management of debris after these two hurricanes was and continues to be a critical element of the recovery efforts," he said. "Without debris removal, there can be little rebuilding and repopulating. All types of debris, household contents, houses, cars, vessels, trees, white goods, electronics and more must be removed and properly disposed of in order for citizens to return to their homes and businesses."

McDaniel said even more debris is on the way.

"Although more than 12,000 storm damaged houses have been demolished, it is estimated that about 30,000 additional homes remain to be demolished and disposed," he said.

In addition to debris issues, the Senate committee hearing at the Louisiana Supreme Court also focused on coastal restoration and storm damage protection.

"Although there are many signs of hope, much of the devastation from Katrina is still all too clear," said U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the committee chairman. "A year and a half after the storms, a lot of work remains. There have been serious failures by our government, and we must learn from the past. But I want to focus on the future. We want to be constructive, and to see what we can do now.

"The critical issues we will address today - hurricane protection, wetlands restoration and management of the massive amounts of debris left in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Rita, are a top priority for this committee," she said.

Boxer also pledged to get Congress this year to reauthorize the Water Resources Development Act, which would aid projects in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Among those attending the hearing or providing written testimony at the hearing were Major Gen. Don Riley, director of civil works at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the agency's assistant secretary John Paul Woodley Jr., Sidney Coffee, chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, Wilma Subra representing the Subra Company/Louisiana Environmental Action Network and the Sierra Club, Robert R. Twilley of Louisiana State University, Richard E. Greene, regional administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Randy Roach, mayor of Lake Charles, La., and Thomas Jackson, president of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority.


Related Topics:

What's changed, what hasn't at FEMA

Teams continue to rebuild in SC

Helping hands following 3 disasters


More links on Disaster Recovery

Find this article at:

http://www.disasternews.net/news/article.php?articleid=2889

Advertisers:

DNN Sponsors include:

Advertisements: