In the Ninth Ward a 52-unit townhouse complex is vacant and collapsing. After Katrina, a lot of buildings in this area of New Orleans never got repaired. There are many reasons for this, but for the Press Park complex the disrepair looks like it will be permanent.
The buildings are surrounded by a chain link fence with barbed wire a la mode. Several of the townhouses look like someone smashed the roof and walls in with a giant’s baseball bat, others are still filled with the household wreckage of the people who used to live there. Jungle plants are growing out of the shattered windows and the rubble of collapsed walls and roofs scatters the grass. Despite the devastation, someone is still mowing the lawn.
Tires clog some of the street drains. A couch hangs out of one second story window. Some of the walls are marked with desultory graffiti, although the size of the vacant wasteland seems to have overwhelmed most of the would-be artists.
This all got its start in 1909 when the City of New Orleans began using the swampy area as a dump – the Agriculture Street Landfill. Frequently on fire, the dump was known locally as Dante’s Inferno. It was upgraded from a dump to a sanitary landfill around 1948 and continued to be used for another 10 years. The debris from Hurricane Betsy was buried there in 1965. A year later, it was officially closed.
All that filled land couldn’t go to waste, so in the late ’70s, the Agriculture Street Landfill was covered with a layer of sand and redeveloped for residential purposes. Over four hundred units, a school, and a shopping center were built on the northeastern half of the landfill.
By the late ’80s, residents were complaining of garbage working its way to the surface as well as health problems. EPA investigations of the area showed elevated levels of lead, arsenic, and other carcinogens. The EPA called for remediation measures, consisting of the removal of top soil, installation of a geotextile membrane and new top soil. These measures were announced to be 99% complete in 2001.
According to a firm representing many of the residents in a lawsuit, the EPA and the State of Louisiana both conducted earlier tests of the soil in the area, but did not release the results to residents, nor were residents advised about precautions that should be taken. The firm says that the EPA returned in 1993 to test the site again and told the residents that their soil was contaminated with more than 143 toxic and hazardous materials. Then the EPA declared the neighborhood a Superfund site.
The lawsuit is ongoing, but Hurricane Katrina flooded the area and wrecked many of the buildings, making the situation a bit of a moot point. According to a man who lives across the street from the buildings, they have been vacant ever since Katrina.
This seems to me to be a pretty good example of why landfills cannot be counted as land reclaimed, even when they are closed, capped, and sealed. Even using closed landfills for parks and golf courses remains questionable, but to build houses on top of landfills seems a pretty poor idea.