Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Southern Scrap Treats New Orleans Like Crap During Hurricane Gustav

Live TV coverage during Hurricane Gustav did not begin to capture the enormity of the threat posed by unsecured vessels bumping around in New Orleans' precarious Industrial Canal.

The Times-Picayune says reports that "three" vessels were banging up against flood walls were astoundingly understated: in fact, says the U.S. Coast Guard, there were 70 vessels loose, and they all belonged to one company, Southern Scrap.

It turns out that Southern Scrap actually had 130 vessels in the canal when Gustav hit--so that less than half of them actually stayed moored.

The Coast Guard, which has no formal approval process for such situations, reviewed Southern Scrap's Heavy Weather Protection Plan before hurricane season and found it satisfactory. The Coast Guard also inspected Southern Scrap's Industrial Canal recycling yard early in this hurricane season and verified that they had the proper mooring equipment outlined in their plan.

But in a written order to Southern Scrap yesterday, Capt. Lincoln Stroh, the Coast Guard's New Orleans sector commander, expressed doubt that the company had followed its plan, since several grounded barges were found with frayed ropes and severed steel cables, but no chains. Stroh said the Coast Guard is launching a formal investigation.

Stroh also ordered Southern Scrap to remove all of its vessels from the canal prior to any new gale-force winds and to keep them out of the canal for the entirety of hurricane season, June 1- November 30.

Forty of the derelicts were still loose in the canal as of late yesterday. Southern Scrap planned to sink about six of them, but said it did not have enough time to remove the grounded barges before the possible landfall of Hurricane Ike. The president of Southern Scrap's parent company, Southern Recycling said they would try to keep them from floating again by punching holes in them or filling them with water.

The Times-Picayune reports that Southern Scrap plans to move its ship-recylcing operation up-river to St. Charles Parish next year. Given that parish's greater vulnerability to storm surges, its residents might want to re-think the cost-benefit calculation of that move.

They might also want to listen to Joe Sproules, president of Tri-Dyne Industries, which had two warehouses on the Industrial Canal disabled during Gustav when some of Southern Scrap's projectile barges slammed into them. Sproules is mad enough about his own losses, and has lawyers pursuing compensation.

But Sproules is even more concerned about Southern Scrap's callous disregard for the welfare of New Orleans' residents. He says that barges that missed his warehouses were headed for the federal floodwall, and that only good fortune made them stop short. Had they slammed into the wall, they could have breached the Industrial Canal again and re-flooded the 9th ward.

If the Coast Guard investigation confirms the negligence the agency suspects, Southern Scrap should no longer be allowed to operate anywhere. It's assets and operations should be seized, then sold to a company that values adjacent residents as something more than fodder for its bottom line.

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