Residents living around the North Wastewater Treatment Plant had questions and concerns about a proposed public project that calls for the buyout of 47 homes around the plant.
The proposed project would tear down these homes and create a buffer zone that would be planted with trees to help reduce odors.
However, a number of residents expressed concerns about the lower value of their homes due to the proximity to the treatment plant and questioned how people could afford to buy a home elsewhere when their current home was devalued.
Greg Mitchell, a longtime proponent for residents in the area, said he is concerned appraisals would be low and asked if homeowners could submit their own appraisals.
Bob Abbott, assistant city-parish attorney, said updated appraisals could be part of the negotiation if a resident felt that the fair market value appraisal was too low.
Other people expressed similar concerns.
“The homes would sell for a higher price if the treatment facility wasn’t there,” said George Francis, whose mother lives in the neighborhood.
Mary Roper, city-parish attorney, said that because this is a public project, there are rules that limit what the city-parish can do, and it must offer the fair market value.
However, there could be additional assistance for homeowners.
Real estate agents would work with residents to select three possible homes in other areas where the person or family could move.
If the cost of that home is more than the appraised value of the old home, there is federal relocation money that can help make up the difference to a point, said Bryan Harmon, deputy director of the Department of Public Works.
“Relocation is a very important part of this proposal,” Harmon said.
The amount of relocation funding available above the appraisal value will depend on an individual’s circumstances, Harmon said.
Other residents were concerned because they weren’t included in the buyout area but still had complaints about odors.
“We are all affected by the smell, not just one side,” said Laquintin Bell, a resident along Avenue M, which is outside the proposed buyout area.
The Metro Council would have to approve any proposed plan before action could be taken, Roper said.
“If the council doesn’t approve this proposal, it could likely be the last effort,” she said.
In addition to getting information, city-parish officials emphasized that the plan is just a proposal and residents need to give input to make sure it was the best plan possible.
“You are the people who will live with the proposal, so it has to work for you,” said William Daniel, interim director of the city-parish Department of Public Works.
The proposed properties for the buyout are bordered by Woodcock Street to the north to Mills Avenue to the south with Avenue M to the east and Avenue K to the west.
Another section included is from Woodpecker Street to the north, Avenue L to the east, Avenue K to the west and Mills Avenue to the south.
A third block of property — where no houses exist — is west of Avenue M and north of the treatment facility.
Compensation for homes will be fair market value based on the highest appraised value from two state certified appraisers, Abbott said.
Moving forward with the buyout will depend on several things, including whether the city-parish can get a three-year extension to complete required sewer system improvements. Earlier this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sent the city-parish a letter indicating that the agency was in favor of the extension, but it will require approval from the U.S. Department of Justice, the state of Louisiana and U.S. District Court.
If that extension is approved, the proposed plan will need to go to the Metro Council. If the proposed plan is approved, Daniel said, the buyouts could take place in a six- to nine-month time period.