Local Residents Demand Closure of Agriculture Street Landfill

Stop 3 of 7 on the Gordon Plaza tour.

Throughout the 1950s, the local community suffered from horrible stenches, pest infestations, and smoke emanating from Agriculture Street Landfill (ASL). Spontaneous combustion commonly occurred at the site when incompatible wastes came in contact underground, garnering ASL the nickname “Dante’s Inferno.” [1] In October of 1950, police guided motorists through the streets surrounding ASL at 10 miles per hour due to low visibility caused by smoke emanating from the landfill. [2] In October of 1956, eight public schools stopped serving hot lunches due to a severe fly infestation at the dump. [3]

Residents near ASL began to make public complaints and eventually organized legal and political action against the landfill. One resident quoted in a local newspaper article said “the cost in depreciation of land in the close proximity of this landfill has been tremendous.” [4] In 1951, neighborhood residents made a failed attempt to sue the City for its negligent operation of the landfill. [5] In 1955, residents of the Eighth and Ninth Wards picketed the landfill. Residents quoted in local media coverage of the protest condemned ASL's "menacing operations" and "the deplorable conditions it inflicted upon the neighborhood." [6]

City officials responded to these protests with a plan to construct a supposedly odorless and smokeless incinerator on Florida Avenue just ten blocks from ASL. [7] Community members, outraged that the incinerator would remain so close to their homes, circulated a petition to bar its construction. [8] 


In 1957, the City closed the landfill because it could not accommodate any more trash. City officials celebrated the closure of ASL and called for the redevelopment of the blighted site. Councilman Glenn P. Clasen asserted that the land would be “restored and developed to provide additional housing within a very few years,” aiding in the “progress and growth [of] the rest of our city.” [9] While overlooking mounds of rubbish during a landfill inspection, Councilman Victor H. Shiro proclaimed: “I’d like to see the day when this is a beautiful subdivision.” [10]


In September of 1965, following the destruction wrought by Hurricane Betsy, the City temporarily reopened ASL to accommodate excess trash produced by the storm. [11] The City did not place any restrictions on these deposits and every day trucks delivered 300 loads of hurricane debris and trash to ASL. Much of this refuse contained high levels of toxic lead and arsenic. [12] Though sanitation officials stated that “emergency burning of garbage in long-unused landfill locations [would] cease as soon as practicable,” ASL did not close again until the summer of 1966. [13]


Despite long-standing public concerns regarding the safety of repurposing landfills, City officials continued to support the redevelopment of ASL. [14] In the 1970s, the City began construction of Gordon Plaza, a low-income housing project targeted at first-time home buyers, atop the toxic landfill.

Images

Map

Gordon Plaza, New Orleans, LA