The city said they wanted to move the residents our of Gordon Plaza but how? The how just got closer as the city council has an idea.

New Orleans city leaders keep saying they want to move Gordon Plaza residents out of a subdivision built atop a toxic landfill, but details on how they’d pay for it have been vague. This week, the City Council gave the clearest indication yet how it would cover the costs of relocation. A proposed ordinance filed by Council President Helena Moreno would divert $35 million from various stalled city projects to buy the subdivision, move residents and convert the land into a solar energy farm. Moreno said the move represents the “final step” in a decades-long effort to move residents off the former Agriculture Street landfill, a place the city redeveloped in the 1970s and promoted as inexpensive housing for Black residents. In the 1990s, the federal government determined Gordon Plaza was one of the most toxic sites in the South. “The residents of Gordon Plaza were given a truly rotten deal,” Council Vice President JP Morrell said. “For too long, the soil on which their homes stand has poisoned the health of residents with carcinogens and other harmful toxins. When we discuss environmental racism, we must discuss Gordon Plaza.” The council will vote on the ordinance on June 23.

Optimism is hard to come by over the years that they have asked but maybe now some cautious optimism is warranted.

Residents are “cautiously optimistic” about the proposal, said Jesse Perkins, a member of Residents of Gordon Plaza Inc., a nonprofit representing the subdivision’s residents. “This is one step in the right direction,” he said Friday. “But it’s not a victory until we get checks and the checks clear the bank.” In January, the council proposed a similar measure, but the $35 million wasn’t secured through a budget line and it was opposed by Mayor LaToya Cantrell. This time around, the funding source has been designated and the mayor’s office backs the plan. The money will come from bond proceeds allocated to road upgrades, building repairs and other capital projects that have been delayed. The projects will be refunded after the next bond sale later this year. Council members say shifting the money around in this manner will have no effect on the projects or their timelines. The city plans to convert some of the 95-acre landfill site into a 5-megawatt solar farm that could provide power for the city’s drainage and pumping system or be fed into the larger power grid. Perkins likes the idea that a site that has caused illness and hardship could one day offer clean, renewable energy. “I’ve lived here all my life,” he said from his home. “What happens here matters. If we can use it to supply power to our city, I’m all for that.”

Most of the homes are owne occupied which make it hard to sell as who would move there?

Most of the 65 homes that remain at Gordon Plaza are owner-occupied. In 2019, a report from the Louisiana Tumor Registry found that the Desire neighborhood, which includes Gordon Plaza, has the second-highest consistent rate of cancer in the state. The site’s toxic legacy wasn’t widely known until 1994, when it was labeled one of the U.S.’s most contaminated Superfund properties by the federal government. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fenced off part of the site, removed about 2 feet of soil in some areas and then placed mats and clean dirt over some of the contaminated soil. Last month, the EPA indicated it could help pay for relocations. The agency had either paid for, or forced another entity to pay for, the relocations of residents living on or near a toxic site in almost a dozen communities over the past three years. In March, 5,000 current and former Gordon Plaza residents scored a rare legal victory with a $75 million judgment against the city and the other developers of the subdivision. But some residents question whether the city will pay the settlement and how much of it will trickle down to residents after attorneys take what is expected to be a very large cut. The judgment came less than two months after the city prevailed in a separate legal battle with residents. In February, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans upheld a district court decision that found the city was taking proper steps to protect the health of Gordon Plaza’s residents. “The city’s done strange things in the past, so I don’t want to get over-confident about this (ordinance),” Perkins said. “We’ve won judgements and had victories in the past, but nothing’s come out of it.”

Maybe, just maybe the solution is at hand and they can move.

Gordon Plaza settlement getting closer
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