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Port of New Orleans wants to clean up its brownfields

28th August 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Susan Buchanan
Contributing Writer

Polluted sites with vacant or falling structures along the Industrial Canal, including one in New Orleans East and others in the Florida Avenue Turning Basin in the Upper Ninth Ward, are slated for an eventual cleanup. In January, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave a $200,000 Brownfields Area-Wide Planning Grant to the Port of New Orleans so that it can find ways to rehabilitate its decaying waterfronts.

The port has begun work on a brownfields plan for the Industrial Canal Corridor, a 5.5-mile stretch of business, mixed-used and residential properties. Restoration should reduce risks to the public from contaminants and flooding, spur growth along the waterfront, and create greenery and recreation areas, according to EPA. Separately, the EPA in early June awarded the city’s Regional Planning Commission a $300,000 grant for a community-wide, brownfields assessment. Here we’ll look at the port’s grant since efforts on it are the furthest along.

“EPA’s $200,000 grant to the port funds planning work,” Jennah Durant, EPA spokeswoman in Dallas, said last week. “A property along Jourdan Road and several properties along the Florida Avenue Turning Basin have been identified as priority sites in the grant’s target area,” she said. Future development of those sites will be determined later. “Industrial reuse is possible because of their proximity to the canal and other transportation services,” she said. The port’s planning grant extends to April 2019.

The man-made Industrial Canal connects with the also man-made Gulf Intracoastal Waterway to the east. In recent decades, the canal hasn’t met its full commercial potential, and that’s affected surrounding neighborhoods. “Buildings were constructed and industries operated there well before rules were in place to protect human health and the environment, leaving the port with many legacy brownfields issues,” the port said in its March brownfields work plan. Hurricanes added to blight along the once-productive corridor. Any remediation work that occurred was spontaneous and done with little planning. Along the canal, the port owns 1,000 acres of industrial, maritime-use property. With EPA funds, the port wants to reverse waterfront decay and to engage the public about the corridor’s future.

Donnell Jackson, Port of New Orleans spokesman, said the port applied for an EPA brownfields planning grant a year ago, with an eye to invigorating the Inner Harbor. “We were awarded a two-year planning grant this year to help us execute our Port Inner-Harbor Economic Revitalization or PIER Plan, with goals of job creation and job connections, increasing commerce and renewing the Inner Harbor’s viability,” he said.

The money from EPA is strictly for planning purposes and can’t be used for cleanups, Jackson said. “Over the next two years, we’ll catalog what we know about properties along the Inner Harbor, gathering input from stakeholders—current businesses, economic and development entities, government agencies, non-government organizations, community leaders and elected officials.”

Jackson said, “The project area includes the entire Inner Harbor, with catalyst sites for focused planning—two portions around the Florida Avenue Turning Basin and the property at 7300 Jourdan Road.”

This year, the 18.2-acre Morrison Yard, owned by the Port of New Orleans and located at 7300 Jourdan Road, has handled debris from February’s New Orleans East tornado. The yard was used for facilities maintenance before Katrina. And in recent years, sandblasting and repainting of floodgates occurred there. In 2015, six of its buildings containing asbestos, found in a late-2013 environmental survey, were demolished. Soils there are thought to still contain asbestos, lead and other heavy metals. The site is adjacent to Industrial Canal berths and to railroad tracks. And from Jourdan Road, Interstate-10 is easily reached.

Florida Avenue Turning Basin’s Sections A and B, owned by the Port of New Orleans, are on nearly 15 acres listed as 4501 North Miro Street. Section A is the former Namasco Shed, which was due for demolition this year. The shed had been used for storage, fabrication and distribution of steel products since 1924, and was operated by different owners over the years. Katrina flooded the site. Environmental assessments in 2006 and 2015 found asbestos and lead there.

Section B is the Florida Avenue Shed and Laydown Yard on the northwest part of the Florida Turning Basin. The area operated as a transit shed for break-bulk cargo from 1941 to the late 1990s and was used by stevedore companies. The wharf and shed were condemned by the port in 2004, and after that they suffered damage during Katrina. Contaminants at Section B aren’t documented or known by the port.

“We’ll identify whether needed improvements on these sites are economic, environmental, infrastructure-related or if they involve connections to the community,” Jackson said. “Community members, industrial tenants and prospective businesses and job-training groups will all have an input. Planning, along with an implementation strategy that will help us find the best ways to turn plans into actions, is expected to be complete in first-quarter 2019.”

But vision can only take you so far. “What happens to brownfields sites depends on how clean you can get them,” urban planner and land-use expert Stephen Villavaso, based in New Orleans, said last week. “Every site is unique, and you won’t know what’s there until the work gets under way. After the cleanup, a site’s best uses can be determined.”

The port will hammer out its brownfield plan and implementation strategy in conjunction with the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, the city’s Planning Commission and the state’s Department of Environmental Quality. The targeted Industrial Canal sites pose health threats now, but once they’re redeveloped, the environment should be cleaner for nearby residents, the port’s March work plan predicted. Resident Councils at the Desire and Florida Housing Developments in the Upper Ninth Ward are expected to participate in the planning process.

The Port of New Orleans was among 19 recipients of Brownfields Area-Wide Planning grants announced by the EPA in January. Nearly half a million brownfields sites exist across the nation. In addition to helping the environment, remediation creates jobs, raises surrounding property values, adds to local tax bases and capitalizes on existing infrastructure, according to EPA. Brownfields sites along the Industrial Canal have sewer, water, drainage and roads that will continue to be used, if possible, the port’s March work plan says.

The EPA since 2003 has provided $4.8 million in brownfields grants to the Crescent City area. “These grants have focused on planning, assessment and cleanup, and have included revolving loan funds,” Durant said.

With the help of several federal agencies, brownfields were cleaned up at the North Terminal, under construction now at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport; the American Can Apartments and Falstaff Brewery Apartments, both in Mid-City; and the Constance Lofts in the central business district.

This article originally published in the August 28, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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