NAPOLEONVILLE — At first glance, Bayou Lafourche is a scenic brown ribbon lined with homes and camps that meanders 106 miles from Donaldsonville to the Gulf of Mexico.
But a closer look reveals a blight of unsightly trash along its grassy banks for as far as a person can see — something an army of volunteers was determined to remove Saturday.
Organizers say more than 1,000 area residents converged on the bayou in boats and on foot Saturday, from Napoleonville downstream for about 50 miles, for the fourth annual Bayou Lafourche Cleanup.
In just a few hours, volunteers from civic groups, churches, schools and corporations filled hundreds of garbage bags with plastic water bottles, aluminum cans, foam cups and other trash. Debris including old car batteries, tires, broken lumber and even car parts were scavenged from the water embankments.
Several volunteers remarked that uncaring residents use the bayou for garbage disposal, even though it is a primary source of drinking water for 300,000 residents in Lafourche, Terrebonne, Assumption and Ascension parishes.
Jim and Mary Ann Theriot, of Belle Rose, were picking up trash along the banks behind the Napoleonville Community Center and filled a garbage bag in just a few linear feet of embankment. Pausing to catch his breath after trying to dislodge a dented 5-gallon can partially filled with something, Jim Theriot blamed the volume of debris on what he called a bridge disposal system.
“People drive across the bridges at 3 in the morning, stop and hurl their garbage into the bayou — sometimes it’s an entire bag of garbage that floats,” Jim Theriot said. But cleaning it up Saturday “is a pleasure to work for the enhancement of the beauty of our wonderful state of Louisiana.”
Mary Ann Theriot added the effort was important because “the only thing we can give to our grandchildren is an improved environment.”
Napoleonville’s third-term Mayor Ron Animashaun, who also sits on the water district board, said he agreed with Jim Theriot’s bridge disposal description.
“People use it as a garbage dump,” Animashaun said.
He said the city plans to install cameras around town, some pointing to the bridge, to catch midnight dumpers.
Some trash, such as fast-food wrappers and drink cups, is blown or washed into the bayou after people toss them out the window from nearby highways, Animashaun said.
“We have to get people to stop littering,” he said.
Animashaun said he was overwhelmed by the response to the cleanup, with more than 1,000 people of all ages, walks of life and races participating.
The event was coordinated by the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, the Bayou Lafourche Fresh Water District and Keeping Louisiana Beautiful.
Ben Malbrough, executive director of the Bayou Lafourche Freshwater District, said they divided the bayou into 13 sections with team captains organizing bank-walkers, boats and strategically placed dumpsters. The team captains also recorded the trash in categories like plastic water bottles, aluminum cans, etc.
“Last year, they found a message in a bottle, a ‘Best Grandma’ trophy, and one of the funniest things I’ve seen was a gigantic dog statue,” Malbrough said. Last year, he added, they collected over 25 tons of garbage, including appliances and building materials.
Down along the bayou, Tom Reckert, of Slidell, said he was surprised to see so much trash along the banks. “You just wonder where it comes from,” Reckert said as he picked up a bowling pin.
A few miles downstream, where a bridge connects La. 1010 with La. 1, a half-dozen volunteers who work at the John Deere manufacturing plant in Thibodaux had collected a pickup truck load of filled garbage bags, two car batteries, three tires, a disgustingly moldy black lawn chair and a twisted plastic fender well from a compact car.
“We were finding so many aluminum cans, we stopped counting,” Spencer Marsh said. “Why does it have to be thrown out of the vehicle? You can’t just take it home and put it in the trash?”