East Baton Rouge residents are growing impatient with the slow pace of debris removal since Hurricane Delta passed through the state more than a month ago, lodging complaints through the city-parish's website and asking council members when streets will finally be cleared.
Gnarled tree limbs, ragged shingles and other wreckage have littered the city since the Oct. 9 storm came ashore in southwestern Louisiana. City leaders urge patience, saying the five tropical storms that have hit Louisiana during this record-breaking hurricane season have put a strain on resources.
“This extremely active hurricane season has also created unprecedented competition for debris removal resources throughout our region and state," Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said after being asked Monday about the slow pace of debris removal. She said she was aware of the "great frustration among our residents."
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More than 60 residents have filed requests for service through the city-parish's 311 service just since Monday.
“I understand there was a lot of damage, but it has been over a month,” reads one complaint from Nov. 12. Another resident requested their debris be picked up “immediately, as we all pay for a service that is not being rendered.”
Broome's office said Monday night the city-parish would bring in additional crews, trucks and equipment. Republic Services, an Arizona-based company that handles the parish’s day-to-day waste collection, will partner with DRC Emergency Services, a hurricane debris removal company based in Alabama that the city-parish is contracting with, and join the effort to remove the remaining debris.
“We understand their frustration, but this was always going to be a process that was going to take several weeks,” city-parish spokesman Mark Armstrong said.
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More than 40,000 cubic yards of storm debris have been removed since the hurricane by DRC, Armstrong said. As much as 70,000 cubic yards of storm debris in total are expected to be collected by DRC, which was using 10 to 12 trucks for the work prior to Monday’s announcement, Armstrong said.
DRC will focus on the remaining large piles of debris while Republic Services will begin removing “smaller woody waste piles,” the city said late Monday.
City-parish officials expect the collection to be completed shortly after Thanksgiving, a full seven weeks since the storm.
The accelerated collection service is limited to residential locations in the city of Baton Rouge and in the unincorporated areas of East Baton Rouge Parish. DRC will not collect debris from state highways or in the city limits of Baker, Zachary and Central, Armstrong said.
Councilwoman Jennifer Racca, who represents District 12, an area that includes Kenilworth, Mayfair and Southdowns, said she’s received texts, phone calls and emails, and also been approached at the grocery store, about the pace of the debris removal.
“I do realize people are frustrated, but it is a unique set of circumstances because we had so many storms. Louisiana has been hit so many times,” she said. She said DRC is a national company and its resources are strained due to the several hurricanes that have pummeled the region this year.
Racca said that once she explains to her constituents that DRC is itself strained, they are more willing to be patient.
Metro Council allocated $800,000 from the current budget for debris collection in response to Hurricane Delta during its Nov. 4 meeting.
“The enforcement is on the mayor’s end,” Racca said. “I think the mayor’s office is working very hard to get it done, and I have no doubt of that, it’s just a matter of the resources we have.”
Nikkos Svoboda, a 48-year-old computer analyst who lives in Kenilworth, said he isn’t too concerned about the “unsightly” pile of tree limbs in his front yard but worried that it could be a sign the city-parish will be slow to address future, larger problems.
“It’s concerning that it takes this long to get someone out because if it was something more important that could mean the city is generally slow in getting other things done,” he said.
The city said storm debris removal has been completed in Inniswold, the Jefferson/Drusilla area, Jefferson Terrace, Millerville, Monticello, Oakcrest, Park Forest, Pine Park, Sherwood Forest, Tara and Westminster.
In the next few days, debris removal should be complete in Bocage, Broadmoor, Citiplace, Concord Estates, Cortana, Glen Oaks, the Highland corridor, Jones Creek, Mid City, North Baton Rouge, the Perkins corridor, Pollard Estates, Shenandoah, Southside, South Campus, Stevendale, Villa del Rey, Woodchase and Zion City.
Later this week, removal will begin in all other areas and neighborhoods in the City of Baton Rouge and also in unincorporated areas of East Baton Rouge Parish, according to the release.
Still, members of the community are flooding the city-parish’s 311 line to urge a faster completion of the debris removal.
One Sunday caller to 311 called the pile of debris in their yard “out of control” and said it was limiting their ability to back their car out of their driveway safely.
But there are signs of progress. The yard of a Shenandoah North home, from which a complaint had been received this week, was clear Monday afternoon. A large patch of dead grass and leaves remained as the only sign of the debris pile’s existence.