When it comes to the disposal of trash, there is always a conflict between the need to process the materials and local communities, which are burdened with the waste. As a Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (LDEQ) representative stated, "Everybody wants you to pick it up, but nobody wants you to put it down." This conflict entered a massive scale when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans depositing some 55 million cubic yards of debris in its wake. Immediately the question arose, what to do with this debris? It is out of this question that the Chef Menteur Landfill issue arose.
The Chef Menteur Landfill is located in the Versailles neighborhood, an almost entirely Vietnamese-American community. The Landfill also abuts the 23,000-acre Bayou Sauvage Wildlife Refuge - the largest in the United States. Once Hurricane Katrina hit in August of 2006 it was evident that disposal sites needed to be opened immediately in order to handle the increased amount of waste. Once such site was the Chef Menteur Landfill (to find out more about the history of the site go to the What page). Waste Management Inc. (WMI), the leasers and operators, petitioned to bring the landfill online despite the protests of the local community. "It will reach the groundwater, and it will reach toward the community," said Susan Do, a spokeswoman for the Vietnamese community. "There are so many senior citizens around here who use the land to grow their vegetables and then sell them on the market. We're going to eat these vegetables, so it will be dangerous in the long run." Soon two sides became evident as coalitions began to build in support and opposition of the landfill (to find out more about the parties involved go to the Who page).
The legal battle of this case is an unusual one. The fact that most of the permitting and authorization occured during a state of emergency gave WMI the ability to forgo the normal processes. The fact that WMI was able to do this changed the nature in which the opposition fought the Chef Menteur Landfill. The Vietnamese community and environmentalists were forced to begin a grass-roots campaign focused on bringing political pressure to both New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and the New Orleans City Council. It became obvious that the conclusion of this issue would be made outside of the courts not within them (to find out more about the venues of this case go to the Wherepage).
In the end the site was shut down due to the amount of activism the community and environmentalists were able to create. WMI and LDEQ are still in vehement support of using the Chef Menteur Landfill for the clean up, however it seems unlikely that it will reopen. WMI and LDEQ now have to look for alternatives to dumping in the Chef Menteur landfill, which include trucking the waste more than 40 miles to another dump (to find out more about the conclusion of this case and possible resolutions go to the How).
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(A map showing the relative location of the Chef Menteur Facility. See the attachments for a better map)
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