(New Orleans)A Gentilly neighborhood is again dealing with a public health problem near Columbia Residential's development of the former St. Bernard housing site. "Our water has been off since about 3 PM yesterday," said Tamachia Davenport, a resident of the neighborhood. "People are going to the gas station to use the bathroom, and we aren't getting any information about when we'll have water again."
This is the second time in 11 days that the neighborhood has been without water, seemingly due to the developers' negligence. On May 26th the community lacked water for approximately eight hours.
The continuing problems with water are a public health risk, one of a long list of problems resulting from Columbia's development of the site. The former St. Bernard site is being demolished to make way for Columbia's new housing complex. Deconstruction debris - including particulate matter - has been an ongoing problem for the neighborhood since the demolition began. Particulate matter (tiny dust particles) has been widely studied for health effects. Inhaling particulate matter can cause asthma, lung cancer, cardiovascular problems and premature death. "We have been feeling bad since this demolition began," said Ms. Davenport.
Residents' monitoring of the demolition reveals that Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) guidelines are being broken. Among the problems:
Failure to wet the debris (to assure that particulate matter cannot drift in to the neighborhood)
Failure to cover the debris as it is trucked out.
The state DEQ has these requirements to protect the public from particulate matter. According to Housing Authority of New Orleans' (HANO) notes from an April 9th meeting between Columbia Residential and the neighbors, Mr. Noel Khalil (the Founder and President of Columbia Residential) assured residents that watering of the sites would be rectified "immediately." Residents have observed no watering and continuing dust problems since that time.
Among the residents' requests:
* Immediate restoration of their water;
* Immediate suspension of the demolition pending a meeting with senior management from the Atlanta office of Columbia Residential and a Memorandum of Understanding between the community and the company;
* A review of the developers' actions by the City Council, with attention to Columbia's contract with the city and the viability of continuing that contract given the public health problems created.
It is believed that Columbia Residential may have the contract for developing the sites of the other demolished housing developments. Residents are thus interested in improving Columbia's performance (or ending the city contract) for the sake of residents throughout the city.
One of the neighbors being affected by the water outage is a prostate cancer survivor who is supposed to soak in a bathtub three times a day. Given the current outage, the neighbor cannot follow his doctor's orders. Neighbors are consulting with a variety of allies, including ACORN, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic and private attorneys to pressure Columbia Residential and the city council to solve the problem.
"When we mention a law suit they perk up and say they'll do anything they can," said Ms. Davenport. "Why can't they just do the right thing on their own, without legal action?"
Tamachia Davenport will be at 3829 Hamburg until noon today. Other residents will be nearby to discuss the problem.