Lots of litter, lots of hope for Bayou Vermilion

By Dominick Cross  |  Photos by Robin May

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Bayou Vermilion is 72 miles long, with 33.5 miles of it winding its way through Lafayette Parish. It continues on through Vermilion Parish into Vermilion Bay.

And before its waters got to the Gulf last year, 23.7 tons of floating debris, including 322 large items like appliances and furniture, as well as some 190 tires were removed by the Bayou Vermilion District’s Bayou Operations team of six workers.

Impressive, if not depressing, stats, but things have improved since the mid-1980s when Bayou Vermilion was considered one of the most polluted waterways in the country.

“Our main mission is to keep the bayou clean,” says David Cheramie, executive director of the BVD. It’s an upriver battle to be sure, but the situation is improving if you consider that the total trash collected is down from 2010 when workers pulled 25.02 tons of floating debris, 731 large items and 454 tires from the Vermilion.
The BVD’s game plan is to improve opportunities in recreation and water quality and also to enhance economic development, through venues like Vermilionville. “The Bayou Operations side has ever since been pulling out trash, trying to educate the public about storm water issues, drainage,” says Cheramie. “Anything you throw in the street is eventually going to be washed into the bayou.”

BVD's Paul LaHaye and David Cheramie stand among drums of
debris collected from the bayou over just a two-day period.

Some items like cups, bottles and grass clippings may have gotten there accidentally, Cheramie acknowledges; however, it takes more of an effort for appliances, flat screen televisions, automobiles, dog houses and tires by the truckload to get there.

Tires present a curious problem for the BVD. While individual tires are found here and there, it’s not unusual to find them in groups. “They’re usually in the remote areas along the bayou,” says Paul LaHaye, who heads Bayou Ops. “They’ll park in the curves so they can see in both directions, unload the tires, then skedaddle. We’ll pick up sometimes 30, sometimes 40 tires.”

LaHaye is under the opinion these dishonorable tire dealers charge a disposal fee to consumers so they can have them properly discarded but do not properly do so; instead, they keep the money. “Seems like it’s on the increase right now,” he says. “People are collecting them, but they’re not disposing of them properly. People try to dump them so they roll down the bayou bank, but few of them make it.”

Cows — dead or alive — usually get some help from coyotes or feral dogs when workers find them. Workers can tell by the paw prints in the mud along the bank that the bovine was chased.

Mardi Gras and Festival International de Louisiane contribute the largest amount of small items to the trash count, such as beads, cups, bottles and cans. And not that it’s intentional, either. Cheramie says Festival, which brings in plenty of garbage and recycling receptacles, will continue to do its part in helping to keep waste from getting into the drainage system.

Cheramie says man isn’t the only contributor to an unhealthy Vermilion. Mother Nature herself erodes the banks when the river rises and falls after hurricanes or hard rainstorms that bring silt and trees into the bayou.

Most people know that cigarettes aren’t healthy for humans. And while it’s not a matter of second-hand smoke, fish are victims of bad human habits, too, as one cigarette butt is lethal enough to kill all living fish and organisms in a gallon of water.    

Bayou Ops is trying to keep the trash out of the coulees before it gets to the bayou by putting booms across the coulees.

“But the thing is, you get a big flush like a big hard rain, it pushes everything over and under the boom. So we have to go there on a regular basis before it gets that way,” he says. “We’ve improved a lot, but we still have a ways to go.”

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