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The St. Helena Parish Police Jury building, Wednesday, May 27, 2020 in Greensburg, La.

The St. Helena Parish Police Jury president wants to cancel the parish’s contract with Amwaste, the local residential waste-pickup utility, if the company can’t fix a slew of problems that became worse when Hurricane Ida swept through the parish on Aug. 30.

A shortage of truck drivers, a four-fold increase in trash put out after the storm and countless felled trees that snarled roads in the rural parish left some people without garbage pickup for weeks, an Amwaste manager acknowledged at a recent police jury meeting. Along La. 16, in the southwest pocket of the parish, trash built up for days, said police jury President Frank E. Johnson.

But the problems existed before the hurricane.

“The storm’s one thing, but we’ve stood up here and struggled with staffing for the last year and a half,” Amwaste Gulf Coast District Manager Dustin Fortenberry admitted to the police jury at its Sept. 29 meeting.

To correct the pickup issues, Amwaste added more drivers in St. Helena and switched from running routes there solely on Thursday and Friday to operating five days each week. It's now running two routes parish-wide Monday through Friday.

So far, the new five-day-a-week schedule isn’t yielding the results everyone hoped.

“I was here one day, and (the new crew) drove right on through and didn’t pick up anything,” said Virginia Hughes, who lives on a parish road off La. 16, north of the Livingston-St. Helena line.

Police Jury president Frank E. Johnson isn’t convinced the new schedule will fix the long-standing pickup issues. If the problems don’t improve soon, he said Thursday, he’s prepared to ask the police jury to nix Amwaste’s contract.

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“Right now, they haven’t sold me on it,” Johnson said. “I still see a lot of garbage being left. If it doesn’t work this go-around, they’ve got to go.”

Fortenberry did not return a message Friday.

St. Helena's current contract with Amwaste pays the company about $67,500 per month to pick up residential trash, said police jury clerk Sharonda Brown.

The company has 2½ more years before that deal expires, but the police jury has the power to cancel the contract if the panel were to find that Amwaste hasn't met the agreement, Brown said.

The lags in garbage pickup are one of the longest-lingering effects of Hurricane Ida’s tear through the heavily forested parish sandwiched between Baton Rouge and the Mississippi state line.

Few residents expected the storm to drive this far north. But Ida’s winds persisted until it hit Mississippi, decimating St. Helena’s power grid, stalling mail and leaving some residents of the impoverished rural area without running water for several days.

Amwaste, which has a presence across the Deep South, has struggled recently in other parts of the Baton Rouge region.

In January, the company lost a five-year contract with the East Feliciana Parish Police Jury to a rival bidder. And officials in Tangipahoa Parish blasted the company for slow and missed pickups in the wake of Hurricane Ida.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this file incorrectly reported that frustrations over slowed garbage pickup in Jefferson Parish involved Amwaste. That dispute involved a different contractor.


James Finn writes for The Advocate as a Report For America corps member. Email him at JFinn@theadvocate.com or follow him on Twitter @RJamesFinn.

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