NEW ORLEANS (AP) Mayor Ray Nagin Aug. 14 ordered waste haulers to stop depositing debris in a controversial landfill opened after Hurricane Katrina, a move state regulators said could delay the battered city’s cleanup by more than a year.
City officials said the emergency authorization allowing the landfill to accept waste was about to expire and the company had not applied for a new permit.
The landfill run by Waste Management Inc. opened under emergency procedures last year, circumventing normal zoning rules and other regulations. If it is closed, trash trucks will probably be sent to a dump 20 mi. (30 km) away in adjoining Jefferson Parish, forcing them to cross the Mississippi River and possibly causing backups.
The landfill was opened to accept debris from Katrina, which created an estimated 22 million tons of trash. By comparison, the state’s largest landfill handled only 1 million tons of debris in an average year. At least 30,000 homes in the region have been tagged for demolition.
“You cannot rebuild the city of New Orleans until you clean it up. By shutting down a landfill, it will prolong the cleanup for more than a year,” said Darin Mann, a spokesman of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.
Environmentalists and neighbors have opposed the facility in eastern New Orleans, saying it could contaminate ground water and the nearby Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge. Environmental regulators insist the facility is safe and handles only non-hazardous material.
Waste Management officials asked a federal judge for a preliminary injunction to block the mayor’s order. The company said developing an alternative landfill would take at least a year and hamper the city’s recovery.
“We’re certain that if the entire population of New Orleans understood that closing the landfill would result in additional years of recovery, they would vote overwhelmingly to keep it operating at its current level,” company Vice President Tim Hawkins said.
Mann said the Jefferson Parish facility has the capacity to handle additional trash, but the increased traffic would likely cause large backups at the facility and long delays.
He also said closing the facility could increase illegal dumping by private haulers and leave significant amounts of debris on city streets, which are still piled high with heaps of drywall, pipes and other refuse.