After Ida: Mounting trash, rising anger in New Orleans

Bags and containers of household garbage and piles of storm debris line a New Orleans street, Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. Nearly three weeks after Hurricane Ida struck the city, many residents are growing angry at the lack of garbage pickups in New Orleans— a problem officials say stems from labor shortages that began with the COVID-19 pandemic and were made worse by the storm. (AP Photo/Kevin McGill)
Bags and containers of household garbage and piles of storm debris line a New Orleans street, Friday, Sept. 17, 2021. Nearly three weeks after Hurricane Ida struck the city, many residents are growing angry at the lack of garbage pickups in New Orleans— a problem officials say stems from labor shortages that began with the COVID-19 pandemic and were made worse by the storm. (AP Photo/Kevin McGill) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

NEW ORLEANS – Garbage and debris are piling up along many New Orleans streets almost three weeks after Hurricane Ida pounded southeast Louisiana as residents react with increasing anger and, in some cases, dark humor.

Several residents told a City Council committee Friday that they haven’t had their garbage collected since days before the storm hit on Aug. 29.

“I was at the point of naming every maggot in my garbage and I was going to put them on my income tax as dependents,” a woman told council members at City Hall. “This is not good government. This is just incompetence.”

A Facebook posting calling for a “Trash Parade” march at City Hall on Saturday had drawn about 1,500 responses as of Friday afternoon. “Folks are encouraged to wear garbage bags and garbage related costumes,” the post said.

Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration says much of the problem arises from labor shortages that have plagued the city for months, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and, then, the storm.

The city sought bids from companies wanting to supplement its tow main waste contractors, officials said Thursday. A Sept. 8 deadline was extended to Sept. 13 due to a lack of response. After the later deadline one contractor was hired to aid trash collection efforts Thursday in part of the city. Another contractor who bid on another area had 20 trucks available — but no labor.

On Thursday, Cantrell’s office announced a plan to use workers and equipment from various city agencies to supplement trash pickup. It was dubbed “Operation Mardi Gras” — a reference to the major cleanup efforts that immediately follow the city’s large Carnival season parades.

Meanwhile, council members, under increasing pressure from constituents, expressed frustration with the administration. Member Jared Brossett called the mounting garbage a “public health crisis.”

Member Joe Giarrusso, meanwhile, said the administration is delivering confusing messages to constituents about what will be picked up when. Aside from there being separate collection efforts for debris and household garbage, the Operation Mardi Gras workers don’t have the trucks equipped with the “lifts” to pick up the 95-gallon (360-liter) garbage bins the city issues to residences. So, some crews are only collecting bags of household garbage and leaving the full bins behind for other crews.

“Do I tell them take it out of the can and put in on the side?” Giarrusso asked city Chief Administrative Officer Gilbert Montano.

Administration officials said myriad labor and logistical issues are at play in the city’s efforts.

“This is the first time where we cannot throw money at a problem to solve this issue quickly,” Cantrell’s infrastructure chief Ramsey Green said. “We’ve tried that. We’ve been on the phone with national contractors. We did an emergency procurement ... We had no responsive bidders.”


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