New Iberia trash talk and more TALKING TRASH IN IBERIA PARISH

Hurricane recovery efforts usually bring folks together. But the downed tree limb-lined streets of New Iberia served as the battleground for the struggle between State Sen. Troy Hebert and landfill owner Gordon Doerle over the weekend. Hebert, at the request of Iberia Parish Government, passed a bill this summer forbidding the operation of any landfill or waste-related activity within 5,000 feet of the runway of the Acadiana Regional Airport. Doerle’s grandfathered-in landfill is within that radius. He has the storm cleanup contract for New Iberia and was preparing to haul debris from Hurricane Gustav to his site when the Department of Environmental Quality shut him down, citing that his special storm permit was in violation of the law pertaining to the airport.

That led to a two-day hiatus, while waste sat piled at the curb, and Hurricane Ike set course for the Gulf of Mexico. While lawyers representing DEQ and Doerle argued, Doerle fumed, blaming DEQ’s action on intervention by Hebert. Doerle claims Hebert’s bill is the result of a bitterly fought Senate race last year, where Doerle supported Hebert’s opponent. “I thought the days of the good ole boys were gone,” says Doerle. “The sad thing is [Hebert’s] personal vendetta isn’t just hurting me; it’s hurting the city of New Iberia, so Troy could have his glory. I lost the parish contract — I’m talking millions that I’ve lost so Troy can show how powerful he is.” Hebert is chairman if the Senate Natural Resources Committee in the Legislature, which oversees DEQ. Doerle contends that Hebert can call the shots because he controls DEQ’s budget. “He’s a wild man, and power is going to his head,” Doerle grumbles.

Hebert says the bill was designed to protect the airport and that there is no personal animosity between him and Doerle. “Gordon is his own worst enemy,” says Hebert. “I have never once contacted DEQ about Gordon’s landfill for this storm,” he says. “We’re in crisis mode; we’re trying to clean the streets, [and] there’s another storm coming. Why would I want to hurt my district? It’s Gordon’s failure to come to terms with the fact that his landfill is illegal. He’s in denial, just like a kid, cursing at DEQ, blaming me.”

Doerle was given a 90-day extension by DEQ on Sunday at 1 p.m. to haul debris and chip it into mulch on his site, but he must send it to another landfill or composting facility. Meanwhile his team of lawyers is gearing up to fight a lawsuit Iberia Parish Government filed against Doerle concerning the expansion of the landfill and continued operation of a pick-up station on the site, (“The Wasteland” Aug. 6). Doerle counter-sued, and the hearing is scheduled for this month.

STATE VITAL SERVICES WEB SITE

In the wake of Hurricane Gustav, the Louisiana governor’s office posted a Web site, www.Emergency.Louisiana.gov, that includes statewide updates on gas station openings, grocery store openings, application for federal aid, school and road closures, emergency phone numbers and other vital services. The most updated power outage map on the site shows every parish in the state affected by the storm.  

SEARCH–AND-RESCUE OPERATIONS LIMITED

Despite the visible damage in south Louisiana, officials with the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries say none of their search-and-rescue teams were dispatched below Interstate 10 after Hurricane Gustav made landfall Monday, Sept. 1. In short, the department’s boats remained on its trailers, and its wildlife agents remained dry — for the most part.

As expected, credit for the non-crisis has been doled out: Gov. Bobby Jindal pulled the trigger on evacuations several days earlier than the traditional timeline. By moving 1.9 million people — among the largest evacuations ever undertaken nationwide — officials argue that the need for search-and-rescue operations was greatly diminished. “Because of the way things happened with evacuations, there’s little to no rescues to even mention,” says Bo Boehringer, DWLF press secretary.

Agents, along with law enforcement officials and members of the U.S. Coast Guard, were pre-positioned in Abbeville to serve southwest Louisiana, at Nicholls State University to watch over the Bayou Parish Region and in the Clearview area to reach New Orleans and as far south as Plaquemines Parish. Those teams were never mobilized, though. But Gustav was more than just a 24-hour storm. By Wednesday last week, its wind and rains reached north Louisiana and threatened several communities with flooding.

The department’s search-and-rescue team, which had just days before found itself without a single mission, was regrouped and sent north. The waters were rapidly rising in Winnsboro, the parish seat of Franklin where a handful of evacuees from south Louisiana were being sheltered. Gustav had pummeled the Ash Slough and Turkey Creek, Winnsboro’s main drainage points. The overflow reached the piney woods community in the dead of night, with agents launching boats around 2 a.m., according to the Monroe News Star.

With only their own lighting rigs to guide the way, the department’s agents were faced with at least 150 flooded homes to assess, says Winnsboro Mayor Jack Hammons. Debris, such as cars and rooftops, bobbed in the water and offered further challenges. But the DWLF team accomplished its mission. “We ended up saving 70 people from extremely high waters,” Boehringer says.

While it’s a figure that underscores the devastation wrought by Hurricane Gustav, it pales in comparison to the rescues executed during the 2005 hurricane season, when 22,000 lives were saved during Katrina and an additional 400 a few weeks later for Rita.

Contributors: Jeremy Alford and Mary Tutwiler

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