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Tensions high: Council members, Cantrell administration have contentious meeting over delayed trash pickup

Published: Sep. 17, 2021 at 6:04 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The New Orleans Council calls for city administration and representatives of Metro Service Group and Richard’s Disposal to return to Council Chambers to continue Friday’s special meeting.

Friday was the first time residents were able to address Metro Service Group’s CEO Jimmie Woods. It was a contentious meeting from the start. Councilmember Joseph Giarrusso said members were on the verge of issuing subpoenas to get the administration to answer their questions.

“If it’s the will of the council without jumping into crossfire, I think it will be helpful for letting us address the presentation and dive into those questions,” said Mayor Cantrell’s CAO Gilbert Montano.

“The will of the council is to have our questions answered first unless anybody disagrees with that,” Giarruso responded back.

Tension in chambers grew when Woods made claims Metro crews made “first stops” to regular routes after Ida.

“We have made several passes to every street particularly in your service area,” Woods said addressing Giarrusso, who was trying to figure what to tell residents going days without pickup, “we’re getting so many emails, calls, and social media,” Giarrusso said.

One resident sitting in the audience came to the mic, disputes Woods claims, “I’m sorry but he’s lying. I’ve been back since the Monday after the storm. I saw them pick up in my neighborhood and I saw them not pass in my block,” the resident said. “So, he can’t say they’re passing, when they’re passing where they want to pass and they’re missing where they want to miss. Don’t make an incorrect statement, a blatant lie and you say you’ve been picking up garbage when my garbage has been sitting on that curb forever.”

CONTINUING COVERAGE:

Piles of garbage overwhelm residents and workers

Mayor Cantrell gives reassurance on the City’s trash removal

The City will plan to use a Mardi Gras clean up operation for trash pickup

Woods says he understands resident frustration. He said he reached out to waste companies in the region for help, to no response.

“It doesn’t help us financially to not collect the garbage,” Woods said. “We haven’t [shrunken] our responsibility. We’re throwing more money at this thing than we’re making to solve the problem.”

Metro has a contract with the city through 2024. Montano said city attorneys are looking into Metro’s contract, “this is something that we are absolutely going to be exploring and moving towards and due diligence related to holding people’s feet to the fire for a service the public, the city pays for that we do not receive.”

In the meantime, council members want Montano and others to consider opening temporary transfer stations across the city. If it happens, members say, haulers can drop off trash bags at those locations instead of heading to the River Birch Landfill then allowing hoppers to pick up more bags.

“In the east and the lower nine and Venetian Isles, geographically we are alike further in the east,” Councilmember Cyndi Nguyen said. “It takes two and a half hours for a garbage truck to go back and forth to River Birch and then come back. That’s wasted time.”

“I just don’t want to wait another three days just to go through, talk to LDEQ and whatnot when we already know that we can move forward with something like this, let’s just go and see what sites are workable, sites for Jimmie and others to be able to use,” said Council President Helena Moreno.

Montano says the city is trying to get FEMA to commit to reimbursing the additional costs the city is spending to pick up home waste on top of storm debris. He says typically the federal agency only picks up debris caused by a storm. “No one can rationally say that garbage was created because our citizens were negligent. The garbage was created because the power got knocked because we got hit by a category 4 hurricane,” says Councilmember Jay H. Banks. “If FEMA’s point in being here is to help us recover from a natural disaster that is a direct result from a natural disaster.”

“Yes, we are absolutely asking for the waiver,” Montano told the council “it’s just not guaranteed.” It’s a review process Montano says takes between three to four months. “Both the city and the administration, to solve this problem, do not care if we get reimbursed because it’s such a vital necessity. If it is $7 million dollars to do all of this, as a city, we have to be prepared to put that money upfront as we would anything. We can’t wait for FEMA.”

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