Construction Equipment Stolen From Hurricane Katrina Memorial Job Site

Mon August 28, 2006 - Southeast Edition

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Thieves hauled off $100,000 worth of heavy equipment that was being used to help build a Lower Ninth Ward Memorial to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

A Bobcat excavator and a Bobcat T300 skid steer loader, both of which require trailers or flatbed trucks to transport, were removed from the site sometime between midnight and 6:30 a.m. Aug. 19, construction company officials said.

In the neighborhood that remains nearly pitch black at night approximately a year after the levees failed, the equipment didn’t last three days at the site.

“This takes a lot of guts,” said Bill Petty, senior vice president of Walton Construction Co. and a 26-year veteran of the construction business. “I’ve never seen it happen like this in my entire career.”

National Guard soldiers have been keeping an eye on the construction site at the request of Walton and city officials.

“I don’t know what broke down,” Petty said. “It could have looked as if [the thieves] were the owners of the equipment moving it off.”

Walton, a Kansas City, MO-based firm, and its subcontractors broke ground on the memorial project Aug. 16.

“It’s just ironic,” John Martin, Walton president and CEO, said by phone from Phoenix. “People are down there trying to do something good. Nothing has been happening in the area for nine months.”

Once home to approximately 12,000 people, the Lower Ninth Ward remains a largely vacant, debris-stained portion of New Orleans.

The equipment belonged to a subcontractor hired to pour concrete at the site. Despite the theft, concrete for the memorial was poured as planned.

The unveiling was set for Aug. 27. Petty expected to complete the project on time.