Times-Picayune (New Orleans)
BYLINE: Allen Powell II West Bank bureau
Debris removal at an Algiers eyesore has been halted for months after a contractor walked off the job over a dispute about the removal of potentially harmful debris and how much the work should cost. Now New Orleans officials may be turning to legal action to move the project forward.
Crews from Hamps Enterprises LLC and Advanced Environmental Consulting stopped debris removal at the former Higgins Gate Apartment Complex on West Bend Parkway on Feb. 23. Work was halted after an inspector from the state Department of Environmental Quality found the company was improperly removing materials that might contain asbestos.
Instead of wrapping the debris mounds in plastic before transporting them, the contractor was removing bulk loads, according to a state report. The contractor claimed the project was not bound by the asbestos rules because it had been demolished as part of a city order, but the state rejected that claim.
Pura Bascos, the city’s director of code enforcement, warned the contractors in April that they had far exceeded the original 90-day deadline for debris removal and that the city will change its position on the project cost. Bascos said that if work did not resume immediately, the contractor would be deemed in default and the city would seek compensation through the company’s surety bond.
Ryan Berni, a spokesman for Mayor Mitch Landrieu, said the city attorney has determined the company is in default and is pursuing action against the contractor and the surety company. The surety company had until close of business on Wednesday to respond to the notice of default.
“The mayor stands by his firm commitment to get rid of this eyesore,” Berni said, “and our city attorneys are aggressively working to resolve the issue and get cleanup restarted as soon as possible.”
Representatives for Hamps Enterprises and Advanced Environmental could not be reached for comment.
City officials have met repeatedly with the contractor and exchanged a flurry of emails and letters about the project for months, according to records. The contractor has asserted that, due to the additional requirements for the debris removal, the contract cost should be increased from the $811,900 base bid. Hamp’s bid was significantly lower than most of the other bids under consideration; it was four times lower than one of them. However, city officials have remained firm that all contractors were notified about the asbestos requirements when bids were sought, and both Hamps and Advanced Environmental were notified again when the contract was awarded in July 2011.
Part of the problem with the project is that the original demolition was not handled properly, said Rodney Mallet, a spokesman for the DEQ. The complex was demolished through the efforts of Philip Gibson, of Algiers who was later indicted for posing as the head of Baton Rouge nonprofit to secure donations, including the complex. When Gibson had the complex demolished, the property he ignored guidelines about identifying and removing asbestos separate from the other materials. That created more problems for those contractors who had to remove the debris.
“(Now) you have to treat all the materials as asbestos-containing materials,” Mallet said. “We didn’t tell them to quit, we just said you have to do it right.”
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