Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

The EPA has said that they, in some cases, help with moving the residents of Gordon Plaza out despie what the city announced last week.

A week after New Orleans officials said the Environmental Protection Agency would not pay for the relocations of residents who live atop the former Agriculture Street landfill, an EPA official said the agency could help pay for those moves under certain circumstances. EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator Carlton Westerhouse said the EPA next year will review Gordon Plaza subdivision for traces of hazardous emissions. If those emissions are found, the agency could help residents move, though such relocations wouldn’t happen quickly. “What we are looking to do is make sure that [the site] is protected. If we look at new data that demonstrates it’s not protected, that means we have further action that we’ll take at that site,” EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator Carlton Waterhouse said.

This is not an unusual stance as the EPA has helped move other communities.

Such a move would not be unprecedented. As of 2019, the EPA had permanently relocated residents living on or near a toxic site in 11 communities across the nation, agency officials said. Those residents had been exposed to health risks. The announcement comes after officials in Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration told the New Orleans City Council May 9 that the EPA had no plans to pay for relocation, news that appeared to contradict a January statement from the EPA that suggested it would do so. A City Hall spokesperson doubled down on that stance Friday, saying that EPA has no intention to pay for relocations or new properties for Gordon Plaza residents. So far, the EPA has offered the city technical resources, and has helped it analyze the Gordon Plaza site’s potential to be redeveloped for green initiatives, spokesperson Melissa Newell said.

The site was a waste dump of just under 50 years.

The Agriculture Street landfill in the Desire area, a dump site that was operational from 1909 to 1957, was identified as a toxic site under the EPA’s Superfund program in 1994. That was more than a decade after city leaders built the Gordon Plaza subdivision atop the vacant land. Residents began experiencing signs of toxic exposure just years after moving in, including lead poisoning, respiratory diseases and cancers. After considering the site toxic, the EPA took a host of steps to remediate the land. It built a fence around the former landfill in 1994, and covered the contaminated soil a year later. From 1997 to 2001, the agency removed nearly 70,000 tons of material from the landfill, and capped the site in a bid to stop toxic emissions. Since then, the agency has conducted reviews of the site every five years to ensure that those past remedies were enough to protect human health and the environment. The next such review is in 2023. “The sooner we get sampling done, the sooner we can get results that we can act on. Part of the process is making sure the community is aware of our proposed actions and is able to give us feedback,” Waterhouse said.

The residents hve long sought help with the move and their quest might be over soon.

Gordon Plaza residents and their families have fought for years to force the city, the Orleans Parish School Board, and the Housing Authority of New Orleans to pay for resident relocations. Those residents sued over the issue in 1993, and again in 2019. Judges have ruled in their favor twice, though in one instance, compensation received from two insurance companies came decades after the fact, and was far less than what many needed to cover their moves.  In the second instance, Orleans Parish Civil District Court Judge Nicole Sheppard found the city, the Housing Authority of New Orleans and the Orleans Parish School Board liable in March for more than $75 million. City officials have been notoriously slow to satisfy court judgments.  Before its 2023 review, the EPA hopes to do more testing at the Gordon Plaza site to determine if residents have been experiencing vapor intrusion. The EPA has not tested for that type of emission previously.

They were probably happy to move in and they will happy to leave.

Change of heart, EPA will help with Gordon Plaza
Tagged on: