Playing Chicken with Reality
By Lisa Suarez
The history of the Mississippi River Delta and New Orleans is full of examples of short-sighted decisions, supposedly pro-commerce and transportation, then ten, fifty, or a hundred years hence, causing destruction costing many times more than the profits or convenience of the moment. The indiscriminate criss-crossing of the wetlands by the oil companies, the elimination of most New Orleans streetcars, and the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet are prime examples of this phenomenon. You could also count the "Urban Renewal" policies of the sixties in which federal money was used to build elevated interstate highways through neighborhoods giving a whole new divisive meaning to right side-wrong side of the tracks social engineering.
The City, the Port of New Orleans, and the State of Louisiana are making a similar kind of decision now, concerning the Governor Nicholls and Esplanade Wharves, by planning to install a chicken freezing plant requiring delivery by one hundred refrigerated tractor-trailer trucks per day down Elysian Fields Avenue. They are not required to assess the subsidence issues of truck vibrations hanging over historic neighborhoods like the Sword of Damocles.
The City Traffic Engineer claims that Elysian Fields Avenue is underutilized as a truck route, and that it has been especially fortified with extra layers of concrete. Those extra layers are still not enough, apparently, for the force and vibrations of braking buses, (most of them almost empty) which have mashed the pavement forward in waves, necessitating special bus pads that have been installed at bus stops like band-aids for the street. People who live inside a radius of three blocks from Elysian Fields regularly feel the vibrations of the trucks, fully-loaded ones in particular. The issue of gas mains below street level, which have a history of blowing houses up, should also be addressed.
Clear evidence of metropolitan subsidence issues has been documented by Tulane University Geographer Richard Campanella who analyzed historical and recent data from High Resolution Light Detection and Ranging Technology (LIDAR), GIS-Supported development of a subsidence model, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Yes, the city is sinking, at the rate of five to ten millimeters per year, slightly less on the higher natural levees according to National Geographic (August, 2007). It is visibly noticeable in the buckling streets, leaning buildings, and cracks in those buildings exacerbated by the vibrations of vehicular traffic, specifically, trucks weighing more than 15,000 pounds. Geographically, New Orleans is built on, as Campanella describes it, "Finely textured soils loaded with organic matter and prone to sinkage [which] make the grading and paving of streets and sidewalks that much more expensive." The Port, in its wisdom, massively buttressed the separate truckway custom- built to serve the containerized Napoleon and Nashville mega-wharf, which also necessitated the still incomplete re-engineering of Religious and Tchoupitoulas Streets. Fifteen years ago this state and federal money was supposed to alleviate any additional need to expand heavy industrial usage along the predominantly residential areas of the urban riverfront.
A visit to the Port's website shows several pages dedicated to the Governor Nicholls and Esplanade Wharves Cold Storage Project proposal, bordering the French Quarter and Faubourg Marigny, includes the presentations, documentation from two public meetings, two letters of support, and a "Myths and Realities" paper. One of the letters of support is from Michael D. Moffitt, President of the Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents, and Associates, Inc. (VCPORA), virtually parroting the Port's language, especially in consideration of the truck issue. Curiously, Meg Lousteau, executive director of VCPORA, was quoted in The Times-Picayune on February 13th, 2009 saying, " There are legitimate concerns about the effect of heavy garbage trucks and five or six of them going down the streets every day. I don't think the effects of this on traffic and these old structures was even considered."
As of February 6, 2009, The Times-Picayune reports officials from the Port and the State plan to sign a contract to shift federal Community Development Block Grant funds to the port, specifically for this project. The Louisiana Recovery Authority said the money would not be transferred before the state completes an environmental assessment and other reviews. One of those reviews should include geophone recordings of the seismic activity of rumbling trucks, and a study of what the impact really means to residents and their fragile, antique structures.
Despite the adamancy of the Port's position, it is possible that compromises could be made. What about the trains? The Public Belt Railway serves the Riverfront. Why can't the chilled chickens from the nine parishes surrounding Shreveport and being shipped to China and Russia be put in chilled train cars, completely avoiding the truck issue and the attendant problems of subsidence, diesel fumes, exploding gas mains, and certain-to-rise individual truck transportation costs?
Unfortunately, this is an unworkable compromise because of the ammonia refrigeration safety issues. Chris Costello, President of the Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association, and Chemistry Professor at Loyola University says that one ammonia incident hovering the French Quarter could effectively kill us and tourism forever. When you see the toxic green t-shirts that say "Poison Port," ask the wearer where they got it, and how can you get one too. Try www.faubourgmarigny.org