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Talking Trash 

Why rush an environmental decision that will affect New Orleans for decades? That's the opinion of some locals regarding TransLoad America's (TLA) recent application to build two waste processing/recycling facilities in eastern New Orleans and Gentilly.

These opponents to TLA's plans stress that they favor recycling but are against any proposal that doesn't solicit extensive community input up front and satisfy citizens' concerns. David Stoller, CEO of TLA, feels his company has sufficiently engaged the community but is willing to continue working with residents to assuage their fears.

TLA has asked City Hall for two conditional use permits. One is for a facility on the Industrial Canal at Chef Menteur Highway, and the other would be built on the Michoud Canal in a heavily industrial area. Both applications went before the City Planning Commission in January, and the board split 4-4 on each.

Camille Tuason Mata, environmental justice coordinator for Mary Queen of Vietnam Catholic Church's community development corporation, says that any company wanting to build a recycling facility should institute a community benefits agreement, allocating money to support community development. Mata, whose position is funded by Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), points out that eastern New Orleans has been traumatized for years by illegal dumping and by landfills such as the one on Chef Menteur Highway. She says she has spoken to Council President Arnie Fielkow and has asked the council to adopt a waste-management master plan to ensure residents are heard and protected.

'We want a positive trade-off," Mata says.

Ron Nabonne, a local attorney and political consultant who lives in eastern New Orleans, also opposes the TLA facilities and has written a flyer called "Trash Talk," which he has distributed to nearby residents. Nabonne alleges that TLA will import garbage from as far away as southwest Mississippi, that TLA hasn't conducted any environmental impact studies for the proposed sites, and that the new facilities won't do anything to clean up illegal dumps in eastern New Orleans. Nabonne also contends that TLA's "mission" is to collect garbage, bundle it in bales, put it on railcars and send it to a landfill somewhere else — and that TLA has never recycled at any of its other locations.

'This is their first recycling plant, and that's what Stoller told us during a meeting," Nabonne says.

Stoller disputes the entirety of Nabonne's flyer. He says Nabonne previously has worked for River Birch Inc., which operates a landfill in Avondale and currently holds a 20-year city contract to receive all of New Orleans' residential waste. River Birch also would compete with TLA for construction debris if TLA's request is approved by the New Orleans City Council.

Stoller adds that TLA would only accept construction debris and commercial waste from the metro area and not from southwest Mississippi. He adds that TLA would agree to conduct an EIS if the Department of Environmental Quality required it, and that TLA has already told local officials it would be willing to spearhead a commission for addressing previous illegal dumping. Stoller also says TLA does recycle elsewhere and that the proposed plants, which would require an initial $20 million investment and employ 100 people, were always intended for recycling efforts.

Marylee Orr, LEAN's executive director, says her organization is open to talking with TLA about its application but isn't satisfied with its current recycling goals — a minimum of 30 percent for recycling construction debris. She says TLA should guarantee that at least 70 percent of the construction debris will be recycled.

'I would be very comfortable to say we expect to recycle 70 percent," Stoller responds.

The City Council is expected to vote on the TLA application this week.

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