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Driving force: the Louisiana DEQ and an Alabama-based contractor tackle the collection, remediation and recycling of vehicles abandoned after 2005's Hurricane Katrina.

Hurricane Katrina left no shortage of destruction when it cut across the Gulf Coast in 2005. In the massive cleanup effort that followed, those trying to get the streets of New Orleans--one of the areas hardest hit by the storm--back to normal had their work cut out for them.

The storm and receding floodwaters left ruined homes, downed trees and thousands of cubic yards of construction and demolition debris in their wake, as well as people's possessions, including thousands of abandoned automobiles.

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and DRC Inc., a Mobile, Ma.-based contractor, have begun the rather arduous task of collecting, cataloguing, tracking, remediating and crushing the abandoned vehicles left in Katrina's wake. As of late June, the DEQ and DRC working together have towed more than 11,000 cars to staging areas for processing.


LEGALESE. Collecting and processing that many vehicles under the best of circumstances would be no small feat, and the operation undertaken in New Orleans has been all the more complicated in the general confusion following such a disastrous event.

"The challenges were not in the physical collection of the vehicles," says Chuck Prieur of DRC. "That was the easy part. The challenge was getting through all the red tape.

Notification turned out to be one of the biggest challenges through the whole process, Prieur says. The company had to notify the abandoned cars' former owners and make sure they were aware their cars were tagged for scrap and give the owners a chance to reclaim them. "We're collecting people's personal property," he says. "The state has regulations about notifying the owner--there's a whole process.

The process was made all the more difficult considering the large number of New Orleans' population that fled the city in the immediate aftermath of the storm and had not returned. "The state was concerned over whether they were meeting the requirements of notification," Prieur says. "Most of these people weren't living at the address where the car was registered. Who's to say whether they were being notified?"

Rodney Mallet from the DEQ echoes his sentiment: "There were lots of legalities. The system is designed for registered vehicles, and many of these were not."

The company also had problems with stolen vehicles, and conversely, more automobiles showing up in areas that had already been cleared, says Mallet. "We'd tow from a spot, and it'd be cleared, and then there would be new cars there the next day," he recalls.

It has taken some legal wrangling to make the collection process run more smoothly. The local government made some changes to assist with the issue of notification--extending the required time period. "The normal process was a 45-day process," Prieur says. "We held some vehicles up to a year. The state did something legislatively to determine that if somebody hadn't claimed [cars] in two years, it was determined that they didn't want them."

To curb the appearance of yet more vehicles in already cleared spaces, the contract needed some tweaking as well, says Mallet. The original contract called for cars to be picked up from the public rights of way first. "In many cases, the adjacent property owner would bring them out to the public right of way so they could be tagged later by the state police and hauled off," says Mallet. "We modified the contract to allow the contractor to pick up on private property when he had right of entry. Owners could call and give us permission to come pick up a vehicle."


Automobiles weren't the only vehicles left behind in the storm's wake. In the busy port city of New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina also wreaked havoc on harbors, leaving hundreds of boats. (See sidebar, "Sea Worthy," on p. 106 of this feature.) The process of removing these vessels from the city's harbors came with its own set of challenges.

For New Orleans' abandoned automobiles, once the red tape was adequately navigated, the contractor could begin the remediation process. and proper disposal after removal. "That was set up so those mercury switches weren't thrown into the garbage," he says. "They sent out bins and came to pick them up."


With the contract being administered by the DEQ, environmental protection throughout the remediation process was a top priority, says Prieur.

"After collection, we made sure they weren't leaking anything before storage," he says. "During remediation, there were substantial precautions taken," he adds, including containment walls around the staging facility. The work was also all done on concrete, and covers were available to protect the ground from potentially damaging runoff.

The original plan called for the collection period to end June 30, but the sheer volume of vehicles dictated a 30-day extension of that deadline. As of the writing of this article at the end of July, the company was still collecting and processing automobiles. Prieur says DRC hopes to have the crushing of the cars completed within 90 days, and once the cars have been crushed, the company will be looking to auction off the crushed automobiles to scrap recyclers.

More information about the collection and remediation efforts of the Louisiana DEQ and its partner DRC, as well as other projects, is available online at


In addition to the collection, remediation and recycling of some 10,000 automobiles, the state of Louisiana also tackled the removal and disposal of abandoned boats from storm-damaged harbors following 2005's Hurricane Katrina.

Beginning in May 2007, the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) in partnership with contractor Resolve Marine Group of Port Everglades, Fla., began the process of removing boats from the bottom of New Orleans' Municipal Yacht Harbor, according to a report in the Times-Picayune.

The boats had been in the harbor since the storm some 20 months ago.

According to the DEQ, sonar indicates between 125 and 175 vessels underwater that need to be recovered.

According to the report in the Times-Picayune, the project is funded 90 percent by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) with the state picking up the remaining 10 percent.

In addition to the removal of the vessels, the DEQ and its contractor must also remove all chemicals and electronic equipment prior to scrapping the vessel, according to the report. The contract also calls for the company to remove some 300 tons of debris, including wood pilings, refrigerators and boat parts, from the harbor bottom.

The author is associate editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted at
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Author:Gubeno, Jackie
Publication:Recycling Today
Date:Sep 1, 2007
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