Trash Relief Should Begin Wednesday With Arrival of Ceres Environmental

Photo source: Twitter

City officials said today that residents should see a greater volume of debris from Hurricane Ida being removed from their neighborhood streets beginning Wednesday, September 15, and continuing through next week at the very least. Only about 5% of the 54,000 tons of debris left behind from Hurricane Ida has been picked up to date.

Except for portions of New Orleans East and the L9, the City’s regular trash contractors have almost completed their first pass through the entire parish. Depending on how fast roof and other repairs can be made city wide, it may take multiple passes to complete debris removal.  

The problems with New Orleans trash collection systems goes back sixteen years to Hurricane Katrina. After that storm, there was far more than 54,000 tons of debris that needed to be picked up. Then Mayor, Ray Nagin, and the City Council agreed to raise the fee household’s paid and services were enhanced beyond the twice-weekly standard pickup in most neighborhoods. New cans were distributed to participating households and residents could also call for pick-up of larger items like a mattress or a couch. 

The contract for trash services also transferred from Waste Management to Richards Disposal and Metro Service Group, two minority-owned firms that still service the vast majority of New Orleans residential customers today. Both companies played a significant role in Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts and helped bring the city back. 

Also playing a major role was then City Sanitation Director Cynthia Sylvain-Lear. A veteran of several administrations, Sylvain-Lear had her hand on the pulse of waste pick-up. She was known as a whiz for rapidly cleaning up after Mardi Gras. Now retired, Sylvain-Lear used every resource available and soon had commandeered trucks and drivers from other city agencies including Park and Parkways to keep household garbage collected. She knew full well that FEMA would fund debris removal long-term.       

When Mitch Landrieu became mayor, New Orleans was cash-strapped in the aftermath of Katrina. Landrieu was slashing expenses wherever possible. He attempted to renegotiate the waste contracts. Richards Disposal held firm but Metro’s Jimmie and Glenn Woods accepted a lower fee per household in an effort to build the company.  

Richards Disposal is a 35-year old family business operated by Alvin Richards Jr. and his son Alvin III. The more senior Mr. Richards is a calm but shrewd businessman who is focused on providing the best service possible.    

Also family owned, the Woods brothers were younger and more aggressive. They began Metro with a single-axle rear loading truck 38 years ago. One brother would drive, the other would empty the cans. The Woods’ have successfully built their company into a regional powerhouse industrial services firm. A fleet of environmentally-friendly vehicles collect waste from customers in Baton Rouge, Hattiesburg, Pensacola and Atlanta. Both companies are extremely involved in the community.  

Also working in New Orleans waste management is Sidney Torres’ IV Solutions. Torres’ firm handles significant commercial pick-ups and is thought to be assisting in the residential arena as well. Ramelli provides trash collection in the Central Business District. Empire Services assists with cleaning up after Mardi Gras parades. 

Since the pandemic began, it has been increasingly difficult for waste disposal firms to maintain a full staff complement. Not everyone loves working around trash every day. Although the market leaders have sweetened the pay and benefits package, some employees have shifted to other industries that can provide still higher wages or more enjoyable working conditions. 

Since Hurricane Ida, there has been much confusion as to what Richard, Metro and their sub-contractors were supposed to pick up first. Almost every household in New Orleans had at least one refrigerator full of rotting food along with multiple bags of decaying greenery, limbs, twigs, branches, etc. 

New Orleans government was not clear about the order in which and how items were to be disposed. In some cases, citizens’ debris was emptied from trash cans while their refrigerator waste remained on the sidewalk in black bags. Many citizens complained on Next Door and other social media sites they that had not seen garbage pick-up in weeks.  

The final part of the trash pick-up puzzle is the distance to the “official” dump which is located in Avondale, Louisiana and operated by the family of politico Fred Heebe who was once in line to become the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana. 

With so much debris on the sidewalk, the garbage trucks are often full after collecting debris from one block. Some savvy citizens have been tipping their trash collectors to get special attention. After filling up, the driver and hoppers must then spend the next few hours traveling to Avondale, emptying their trucks and returning to their route. By its very nature, the work has been exceedingly slow but should quickly pick up now.  

The City has retained Ceres Environmental, a Sarasota Florida based licensed general contractor and government contracting firm specializing in the management of disaster recovery, environmental response, demolition and debris operations after such major catastrophes as hurricanes. Ceres bills itself as “proven, responsive, ready.” The Ceres team of trucks and workers will become a welcome sight around New Orleans. Look for the bright green Ceres logo in your neighborhood beginning September 15.         


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