BRAITHEWAITE, LA (WVUE) - “It’s sad that it had to come to FOX 8 publicizing this on the news, but to get some action, it made me feel a little bit better,” said Jill Baumy, a concerned Plaquemines Parish homeowner.
After seeing our FOX 8 Defenders reports exposing dangerous and unsanitary pools in New Orleans, Baumy turned to the Defenders for help in Plaquemines Parish.
In February, we first showed you how from the air, Baumy’s Braithwaite Park pool glistened. But to the left, to the right, across the street and down the street were dark, stagnant swimming pools surrounding her property. They pose hidden dangers in the backyards of homes that, in many cases, have been vacant since Hurricane Isaac in 2012.
Two months after our report, one pool that was wide open is no longer a safety threat.
“We’ve had one pool filled in with sand and (the property owner) did the right thing,” Baumy said.
You wouldn’t know a pool used to be there because the sand blends in with the rest of the backyard.
Another pool that was fenced but stagnant now has a heavy metal cover over it.
"We found out there was a problem, so we’re gonna take care of it. It’s a whole lot better with the cover on it. That way we abate the mosquitoes and we have no problems,” Jesse Shaffer said.
We also spotted a hose releasing water into the street outside another vacant home with a stagnant swimming pool. The homeowner, Lonnie Serpas, wouldn’t comment, but a week later, the parish told us the owners fixed the pool and the property is no longer in violation.
The Plaquemines Parish Code Enforcement inspection in April included a photo of a clear blue pool, and when we went back to the neighborhood a third time, our drone captured video of what appears to now be a clean pool.
Three of the seven blighted pools in Braithwaite Park we first investigated in February are now abated.
“I think we’ve made some strides in the last four months. We’re not done. We continue to work at it, and we want to clean it all up,” Plaquemines Parish President Kirk Lepine said.
For years, though, through previous administrations, neighbors have complained, yet parish inspection records show, for example, “pool was secured by a gate...the property was no longer in violation...owners secured pool area...property is no longer in violation.” Still, pools remained stagnant.
The Parish code says “in-ground swimming pools are to be protected by a fence at least six feet in height.” It also considers “any accumulation of stagnant water (to be) a nuisance.”
In February, Council member John Barthelemy told FOX 8 the parish needed to mandate the ordinance that’s been in place because he stressed even when a property is fenced, if the pool is stagnant, it’s a violation of the Parish Code of Ordinances.
“They need to be filled in with dirt or sand if people aren’t moving back, they have no intention of moving back. They need to be closed,” Barthelemy said.
“I think there was some disconnect in the beginning, but now we’re on track with the health department, the code enforcement officer, the legal department, and I think from here we’re kind of moving forward,” said Lepine.
Since that FOX 8 Defenders report in February, a recent public records request revealed three of the four remaining properties with blighted pools now face abatement hearings at the Parish health department. The public notices mailed in March spell out how each property is in violation of parish ordinances such as “accumulation of stagnant water,” and the fence ordinance.
Neighbor Dorothy McGuire’s home, which is elevated more than 20 feet, has the perfect view of the stagnant pool that was missing part of its fence.
“I’m worried about the kids in the neighborhood. They have a tendency to be curious,” she said.
Neighbors tell us someone has just recently repaired that fence, but the pool remains stagnant. It’s one of two blighted pools McGuire has to look at every day.
“I’ve called a couple of times and (the parish) said they’ve put fish. They eat the larvae for the mosquitoes, and that’s all I got told,” she said.
Instead, she’d like to see them drained and filled, which the Parish had plans to do with the pool adjacent to McGuire’s house.
Records show Plaquemines Parish is currently the primary owner because the owner failed to pay taxes. A parish truck with sand was on site, ready to fill the stagnant pool, but the parish pulled the worker off the job.
Lepine said the owner, who’s still within the period to pay up and get her property back, came forward as that work was about to begin.
“Once they fulfill their obligation with the tax roll, we’re gonna be very stringent on...your pool’s next. I think we’ve given (the owner) till the end of the month of May, OK,” Lepine said.
As for the abatement hearings that were supposed to happen April 17, they were suddenly canceled after a resident involved in a separate code complaint attacked one of the parish’s two code enforcement officers, according to Lepine.
“Supposedly he charged her and knocked her down, and he was arrested,” he said.
That code enforcement officer was scheduled to testify on each of the nuisance pools, but she’s still recovering.
“So it was a very important witness, and again, that happened on a Tuesday, the abatement process was on a Wednesday, so we had to cancel,” Lepine said.
He stressed his team wants to move forward sooner than later.
For neighbors like Dorothy McGuire and Jill Baumy, it can’t happen fast enough.
“That really has me concerned, the mosquito issue, because I have a little sister when she was 5 had contracted encephalitis, and she still has health issues today. So that’s a major concern,” Baumy said.
Hours before this report was scheduled to air, the FOX 8 Defenders learned that another property owner who received notice for an abatement hearing is in the process of abating her pool. Owner Cheryl Tufaro told FOX 8 last month that she had plans to cover it. A neighbor snapped a picture, which shows a metal structure now spanning the water. Once the job is complete, that will make four of seven nuisance pools the FOX 8 Defenders have investigated in Plaquemines Parish that have been abated.
The FOX 8 Defenders staffed with volunteers from the National Council of Jewish Women field consumer complaints at 1-877-670-6397.