As Trash Pickup Problems Continue In New Orleans, Residents And City Council Demand Solutions
When Jimmie Woods, the CEO of Metro Service Group, told New Orleans City Council Friday that his trucks have made "several passes through every part of the city," since Hurricane Ida hit 19 days ago, members of the public screamed, "He's lying."
The council called the meeting to discuss the growing trash collection problem in the city and began with tension in the air from residents who have had garbage rotting outside of their homes for weeks since Ida — some for months. More than 160 e-comments were also submitted to the meeting.
Members of the council refused to let the city's Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montano complete a presentation to begin the meeting.
The council instead demanded that city officials tell them the number of households that still haven’t had trash picked up since Ida.
Between Woods, Montano and the Director of Infrastructure, Ramsey Green, they could not answer the question with a specific number.
According to the three being questioned, the service delays were due to a lack of hoppers and eligible drivers. The city declined the notion of raising the wages for hoppers, who currently earn $12.19 an hour with Metro.
"Operation Mardi Gras," which Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced Thursday and began Friday morning, was also not seen in a positive light by the council.
The task force will pull city workers away from mowing, cleaning drains and road work to form a Mardi Gras-style parade clean-up operation. There will be ten crews with front-end loaders and laborers to grab trash bags sitting on the curb.
"I appreciate the effort here, but I think we need to be honest with the fact that we know this is not a sustainable model and certainly not a long-term solution," said Moreno
Moreno pushed for drastic measures and not just "temporary solutions." One solution, which Montano said the city was currently working on, was finding land closer to the city for landfill. Currently, filled trucks need to commute to Avondale to dump the loads of trash.
Councilmember Kristen G. Palmer questioned both Woods and Montano about their inability to assess which areas have the most need for trash pickup. Palmer said she collected data from over 9,000 phone calls to 311 to determine which areas have not been serviced. She added that she also wanted the data to see if Metro could be fined over their lack of coverage or to even void their contract.
"There is also unsatisfied performance damages that can be taken away from when repaying the contract," said Palmer. "If there are service failures, how are we identifying what the service failures are, and are we holding the contractor accountable?"
The questioning ended with Montano stating the city had never sought damages from Metro before, even though residents had reported issues with service dating back to last year when Metro hoppers went on strike.
Most residents present at the meeting used their time to discuss the notion of hauling their own trash as preposterous, stating they are currently being charged by the Sewage and Water Board for trash removal and not receiving their money's worth. Using comic relief to vent her frustrations, resident Suzi Cobb used her two minutes of public comment to say she had begun to name the maggots in her trash can and was going to claim them on her taxes as dependents.
The council will meet again Tuesday with the same cast of officials in attendance to track improvements and find more solutions. In another moment of comic relief, residents will also be holding a “Trash Parade” Saturday that encourages participants to wear garbage themed costumes and make protest signs.