A dispute between City Hall and the Algiers Development District over who should pay to haul away trash from a former Algiers apartment complex apparently has been settled, meaning the city can get on with the work, officials said Tuesday.
The Algiers Development District, a state-authorized special taxing district, has agreed to pay half of the $1 million cost of removing the asbestos-laden debris from the former Higgins Gate apartments on Westbend Parkway, a nearly 8-acre property that was demolished in 2009 but never fully cleared. The city will pay the other half.
The environmentally hazardous site has become home to discarded furniture, mattresses and other illegally dumped items. It also has been the subject of years of litigation over its demolition, cleanup and ownership.
City Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey, who worked behind the scenes to get the city and the Algiers district to reach an accord, said the pact “shows what happens when all levels of government work together … and put people before politics.”
The city’s dispute with the development district began when its former board chairman, then-State Rep. Jeff Arnold, D-Algiers, agreed in 2011 that the district would finance half of what was then a $508,100 cleanup project, city officials said. Arnold then reneged on that deal, Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin has said.
But Arnold claims he never agreed to a specific amount. He told nola.com in 2014 that he could not have done so without his board’s consent and that the board needed to examine its finances before making such a commitment.
Arnold lost his seat in the Legislature and on the district’s board last year. Sen. Troy Carter, D-Algiers, replaced him as chairman.
The city and the development district now plan to sign a cooperative endeavor agreement to split the cost of the cleanup in the coming months, city press secretary Hayne Rainey said.
Even before the city’s spat with the district, the Algiers site was plagued by problems. Its original owner, Thibaut HG Corp., donated the property in 2009 to a man who claimed to be the leader of the Love Outreach Fellowship, a Baton Rouge nonprofit.
That man, Philip Gibson, was later charged by the state attorney general with filing false records. Officials said he pretended to lead Love Outreach in order to obtain the Algiers property and solicit donations.
Gibson’s arrest cast doubt on who owns the site, which delayed potential improvements, Arnold said.
At one point, the New Orleans Redevelopment Authority sought to expropriate the site. However, a NORA spokeswoman said the agency ended those efforts in 2011, the year the Algiers district and the city seemingly reached a deal to clean up the property.
Love Outreach still owns the site, according to the Orleans Parish Assessor’s Office.
Problems for Higgins Gate continued when the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality criticized Hamp’s Construction and Advanced Environmental Consulting Group, the firms that bid to clean up the property for $508,100, the lowest bid price. The state said those firms failed to place the asbestos-filled debris in a protective “burrito wrap” and haul it to a special landfill, as required.
Hamp’s said the city did not explicitly demand that type of cleanup and that doing so would cost more. The company stopped work, and the city sued.
City officials later put the work out for bid again, this time specifying the “burrito-wrap” method. Hamp’s was again the lowest bidder, but the city deemed the firm “non-responsive” and “non-responsible” for leaving the job in the first place and for incorrectly completing paperwork. Hamp’s sued the city, and the Louisiana Supreme Court in 2014 ruled in its favor.
Meanwhile, the cost to clear away the debris has increased to $1 million, Rainey said.
Because Hamp’s prevailed in the litigation, it is still the city’s chosen contractor for the project, Ramsey said.
Algiers resident Luis Tamayo said Tuesday he was sick of hearing about the political tussles and was just thrilled to hear something is being done with the property.
“Sixteen years watching this,” he said, pointing to the formerly blighted and later demolished apartment complex, “and 16 years watching that,” pointing to the boarded-up former Orleans Parish School Board building across the street. “I’m just tired.”
Follow Jessica Williams on Twitter, @jwilliamsNOLA.