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New Orleans sets aside $2M for Gordon Plaza; money won't help relocate residents

Gordon Plaza residents wait to speak in front the New Orleans City Council, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021.
Ryan Nelsen
Gordon Plaza residents wait to speak in front the New Orleans City Council, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021.

Residents of Gordon Plaza will continue their decades-long fight for relocation from their homes that sit on top of a former landfill known to cause cancer after city officials moved forward with a plan to assess the site rather than fund the residents’ move.

The New Orleans City Council on Wednesday signed the budget for 2022 into effect, with only $2 million going toward Gordon Plaza, specifically to have the site assessed for a solar farm to generate power for the Sewerage & Water Board. City officials said they would then look for American Rescue Plan dollars from the federal level to fund the relocation of the families.

In a budget meeting last month, the city’s Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montano told the City Council that the Gordon Plaza residents would have a specific line item in next year's budget. Mayor LaToya Cantrell also reassured the neighborhood in her re-election night speech that help was coming.

However, Green and Ramsey's plan on Wednesday did not reassure the crowd of Gordon Plaza residents inside the City Council's chambers.

Green explained that if the city wants to use federal money, it has to plan what the site will hold once the city has purchased the land from the homeowners. The city is spending the $2 million, Green said, to request quotes from national labs to determine if the site could feasibly hold a solar farm.

If the quotes, which are due by the end of the year, come back positively, the site is eligible to dip into federal funds from the federal Infrastructure and Jobs Act, which will invest $21 billion to clean Superfund and brownfield sites that have experienced environmental issues. Then the city can begin buying homes from the property owners.

The neighborhood has protested to the city for over 40 years to help them relocate after unknowingly purchasing homes over the former landfill. The community has the second-highest rate of cancer in the state.

The plan's introduction caused a breakdown of normal council activities with public commenters going well over the allotted two minutes, audience members speaking over Council President Helena Moreno and even regular meeting attendees asking for explanations on the City Council's movements.

Public commenters used their time to voice their frustrations and tell the City Council stories of family members lost due to cancer. For some, buying a home in Gordon Plaza was an accomplishment and a safe place for a family.

Now, it has turned into a nightmare, residents said, as cancer is a constant worry, and they have seen several city administrations pass without receiving help.

Olga Johnson, a resident of Gordon Plaza, told the City Council that she is disappointed in the hearing.

“If y'all don’t build something on there, we can’t move?” Johnson asked. “How in the world could you say that? That is just detrimental for us to believe that could even happen in somebody's thoughts. We need to go, and we need to go now.”

The neighborhood's residents were asking for a fully-funded relocation from their homes they claim they cannot resell. They have estimated that each family should receive $500,000. According to the residents, the total of this move would cost the city $35 million, a figure that has risen over the years to account for the rising cost of home ownership in the city.

Further on in the meeting, an amendment to the budget from Councilmember Jared Brossett attempted to start a $5 million fund for the residents by taking money allotted to the New Orleans Fire Department in the American Rescue Plan Act.

Brossett wanted to place $5 million in an interest-earning account that the council could withdraw from at any time. The measure would also require the mayor’s administration to report to the council by May 15, 2022, with a plan to fund the relocation.

The effort was questioned by City Council member Jay Banks, who thought the move was well-intentioned but lacked the planning to help the residents. Banks called the action "smoke and mirrors" and "kabuki theater."

"I don't want to be a part of something that is just done for show," said Banks, who pointed out that $5 million is well below the $35 million price tag to fully fund the relocation. "If we're going to put $5 million in there, when you know that it is not going to result in one person getting moved because it ain't enough to do it, why even do that?"

After Banks pointed out that the fund could be better used if taken from the city's capital budget instead of its operating budget, the City Council agreed to raise a similar measure in the future.

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