Image by klimkin from Pixabay

Finally! The City Council, in a unanimous vote, allocated $35 M for the relocation of the residents.

The New Orleans City Council voted unanimously Thursday to approve a $35 million plan to relocate residents of Gordon Plaza and develop part of the site into a solar farm, the culmination of a decades long fight by the subdivision built atop a toxic landfill. City Council members called the vote long-overdue and Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s office lauded the plan. Residents who have joined demonstrations for years rejoiced, but remained cautious after facing disappointment for so long. “Today is a day of celebration for getting as far as we have gotten,” Gordon Plaza resident Marilyn Amar said. “But we can’t rejoice fully and have a real celebration until the checks clear.”

Years ago, the city promoted Gordon Plaza as a good place to live despite the fact it was a Superfund site as a toxic landfill.

Gordon Plaza sits on the Agriculture Street landfill in the Desire area, and the site was labeled one of the United States’ most contaminated Superfund properties by the federal government in 1994. The city redeveloped it in the 1970s and promoted it as inexpensive housing for Black residents. Thursday’s decision came after a series of setbacks in the long fight for a fully funded relocation by residents. They have led demonstrations outside of City Hall for years, demanding the $35 million they were finally allotted. All 67 homes in Gordon Plaza will be eligible to be bought with the money, 58 of which are occupied. “I want to apologize for stall tactics of the past,” Council President Helena Moreno said. “Here we are, moving forward today, with that capital program line item that you all fought to get approved.”

The city will use the site, in part, as a solar farm to provide power for the drainage pumps.

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. “Today’s vote on Gordon Plaza aligns with Mayor Cantrell’s plan to reimagine this toxic landfill into a thriving alternative energy hub,” city spokesperson Gregory Joseph said. “Revitalizing underserved and overburdened communities with green infrastructure projects like solar farms and electric vehicle recharging stations stands at the cornerstone of this administration.”

The City set up a funding mechanism for the buy-out.

Unlike past attempts to relocate residents, the new plan sets out a funding mechanism to see the job through. The money will come from bond sales initially budgeted for stormwater management and road upgrade projects that have been postponed. The projects will be refunded after the next bond sale later this year, and council members say shifting the money around in this manner will have no further effect on the projects or their timelines. “I want to apologize on behalf of the city,” Councilman Eugene Green said, expressing dismay that “at one time, it was acceptable to ask people to build their homes, to raise their children on a toxic dump.” This plan is to budget the same amount residents have long demanded from the city for a fully funded relocation of every household in the neighborhood. It is intended to pay for the houses assessed at a value as if they were not built atop a Superfund site, as well as moving costs and replacement of furniture contaminated by the site.

The City will be putting out a request for proposals for a third party to do the appraisals for the homes.

Before the city begins dispersing relocation funds, it will put out a request for proposals to have a third-party appraise houses. Resident Lydwina Hurst urged the city to expedite the process. “The city should not have to hire a private firm to twist our arms into accepting crumbs for our property,” she said. “This is a man-made disaster, and it’s time to accelerate this process.” The EPA has capped the landfill site and conducts studies on the best safety measures. However, residents fear plumbing and other below-ground work could expose them to further contamination. Residents who grew up in the neighborhood have shared their experiences of growing food on the land before it was classified as a Superfund site. A majority of residents say they know a friend, family member or neighbor who has suffered from severe or fatal illness. Gordon Plaza resident Delores Taylor, who attended the meeting with her husband and two sons, spoke about her neighbor having plumbing work done outside of her window. “There’s currently a 6-foot hole that has been dug past the barrier in order to repair this plumbing. That is right next to my window,” Taylor said. “I fear for my life because tonight I will go to bed next to it.” The Gordon Plaza working group will have a public meeting Monday at 4 p.m. to discuss the request for proposals. Moreno hopes that the city can release the RFP Tuesday.

This is good news for the residents and as long as they don’t dig in the land all should be well. But if digging is bad, how will they do the solar farm?

Gordon Plaza scores a win
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