Looking out onto St. Charles Avenue on Wednesday, Joe Rabhan confessed the street looked “pretty good,” considering that it had been littered with broken beads and crumpled beer cans less than 24 hours earlier.
“We’re always amazed at the job they can do with all the stuff going on out there,” said Rabhan, the proprietor of the Avenue Inn Bed and Breakfast. “These folks come through, and they manage to get 99 percent of the trash. Generally, it gets pretty clean, pretty fast.”
By noon on Wednesday, the only signs of two weeks of Carnival revelry along St. Charles Avenue were a few errant pieces of litter and, of course, beads hanging from nearby trees, Rabhan said.
A 600-person crew, made up of city employees, temporary workers, contractors and ex-offenders, began sweeping and washing Mardi Gras off the streets and into the history books almost immediately after the last parade rolled Tuesday afternoon.
The clean-up effort will continue through Feb. 27 as parade viewing stands and portable toilets are removed.
The total tonnage of refuse cleared from the street will be announced next week, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration said in a news release.
The city once measured the success of Carnival by the amount of garbage collected when the streets were cleared. But that practice was stopped several years ago because it was thought to encourage littering and discourage recycling.
The post-Carnival cleanup was the first major test of the city’s newest sanitation collector, Empire Janitorial Sales and Services. The Metairie company took over sanitation services in the French Quarter and Central Business District on Jan. 1. Its $3.9 million annual contract with the city marks the first time an entirely new vendor has collected garbage and cleaned the streets of the French Quarter and CBD since just after Hurricane Katrina.
“We have been very pleased by Empire’s work throughout the Carnival season,” Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for Operations Ava Rogers said Wednesday. “We thank them for their hard work and dedication to the people of New Orleans.”
Rogers said Empire exceeded its duty by also collecting trash generated by large commercial establishments, including hotels and bars, that it is not contracted to serve.
Still, not everyone believes the company’s debut performance was up to snuff.
Robert Ripley said he was “deeply disappointed” in the company’s work. Black garbage bags were stacked 4 feet high in front of his Royal Street office on Lundi Gras, he said. The real estate agent said the situation was so bad he could not meet clients there.
“It was just so embarrassing that I had to meet them at another office,” he said. “You kind of expect it to some degree on Tuesday because it’s just so difficult to get through, but not on Lundi Gras.”
Ripley said the mountain of trash had been removed by noon Wednesday, but a trash can across the street from his office remained overwhelmed and surrounded by garbage bags.
“I would have expected it to be gone and fresh-smelling and a beautiful day on Royal Street,” said Ripley, adding that he was concerned he will face a similar trash pileup in April during French Quarter Fest. “I hope the city can figure out how to do it because these people are overloaded and clearly understaffed.”
Overall, Landrieu declared Mardi Gras a “resounding success.”
“Mardi Gras is the single event that transmits the authenticity of New Orleans to the world,” he said in a statement. “We come together each year to do something better than anyone else, and that is to celebrate the biggest free show on earth. This year’s Carnival was second to none, and it was a resounding success.”
According to the city, travel through Louis Armstrong International Airport reached a six-year high during this year’s Carnival season. Meanwhile, hotel occupancy climbed above 97 percent during the second weekend of Mardi Gras, which included the President’s Day holiday and a three-day weekend for many travelers, according to a survey by the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The New Orleans Police Department made 11.5 percent fewer arrests this Carnival season — 443 compared with 501 in 2014 — along the parade route and in the 8th District, which includes the French Quarter, Marigny and Central Business District, the city said. That figure, includes, however, an arrest for a double murder on St. Charles Avenue during the Muses parade.
The city also booted 553 vehicles, towed another 799 and issued 22,475 citations, compared with 497 boots, 847 tows and 18,816 citations in 2014.