Author: Shannon Rainey
Submitted: September 28, 2015
From: Agriculture Street Landfill Site Residents
Gordon Plaza Subdivision Homeowners
& Former Press Park Housing Complex Residents
To: President Barack Obama
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500
Cc: Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy
Dear Mr. President:
We, the residents and homeowners of the Gordon Plaza Subdivision, the former site of the Agriculture Street Landfill, in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, are writing to you to request your assistance in our pursuit of justice. For decades we have endured suffering at the hands of our own city government and its Housing Authority after being misled about the safety of the ground beneath our homes. We trusted our mayor and our government when, in the late 1970s, they built our subdivision and advocated for its use as a path to homeownership for African-Americans in our city. All we sought was the American Dream, and instead we have found ourselves living a nightmare for decades as the result of raising our families on top of toxic waste. We have exhausted all other options at our disposal and we plead for your help with the next step in our quest for what is fair and what is right.
The Environmental Protection Agency placed our home on its National Priorities List in 1994 after over a decade of requests by the residents of our subdivision and some remediation was done, however, the Press Park housing development remains fenced-off from the public and tests there have collected samples containing over fifty times the benzopyrene levels deemed safe by the EPA.
Our community, a community that symbolized hope for working African-Americans beginning in the late seventies, has been ravaged by very high rates of cancer as well as other chronic and debilitating ailments. We planted gardens and allowed our children to play in our yards for over a decade before we were warned about the contamination levels found in the soil of our neighborhood.
Last month, the Orleans Parish Civil District Court issued a Partial Final Judgment approving the terms of a class-action lawsuit filed on our behalf. The settlement award amount is limited by a cap on the insurance policies held by the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO), and, after decades of fighting, we find ourselves at an impasse. While we strongly object to the settlement award, our hands our tied. If one of us were to appeal the award, we would have to post an appeal bond in the amount of $22 million dollars, and no parties to the class would receive a dime as the next phase of our pursuit would its way through the courts, with absolutely no guarantee of additional (or any) compensation.
The justice system cannot deliver justice when the scales are tipped so far in favor of our city government and the huge insurance companies fighting to avoid paying any appropriate level of compensation to the families who have lived on top of the former Agriculture Street Landfill for decades. Many of us still live there, despite our pleas for relocation assistance, and none of us have the ability to post the bond necessary to appeal Civil District Court’s most recent judgment. Many of us will end up will just a few thousand dollars in compensation if we do not appeal this settlement, but we may all end up with no compensation at all if we continue to pursue this action, and continue to ask for accountability from those we trusted with ours and our families’ lives.
We plead with you for your help. The attention of the President could change our entire fight. Your presidency has shown hope to so many Americans, and it is with that hope in our hearts that we ask for your help, your advice, and your voice, to help us right the scales of justice, to help us find compensation for our losses, and to help us regain our faith in our government as our children and grandchildren move forward in their pursuit of the American Dream.
With Hope and Respect,
Agriculture Street Landfill Site Residents
Gordon Plaza Subdivision Homeowners
& former Press Park Housing Complex Residents
c/o Shannon Rainey