We are all excited that children in New Orleans soon will be walking the halls of beautiful new schools built to USGBC LEED standards. However, though the buildings may have been constructed to green standards, the actual green settings the schools sit within–the grounds, the trees, the soil–are being killed by the same old-style construction approach LEED for Schools attempts to change.
At Langston Hughes School on Trafalgar, a lone live oak was treated as the centerpiece by the Recovery School District design team. The physical structure was wrapped around the tree with the intent to create an iconic component of the campus.
Over the past month the contractors, Roy Anderson Corp of Gulfport, Mississippi, lost their way on the path to green and let heavy equipment gouge and compact the soil around the already-stressed tree, dooming it to die-off in the coming months.
Tens of thousands of dollars, possibly more, were spent accommodating that live oak. And, in the final weeks of construction, RAC–in a rush to complete on time–turned the Hughes site into a pig sty of mush.
This is not the only messy school site with problems of runoff and soil degradation. Greater Gentilly High and Holy Cross High on Paris Avenue near the Lakefront are also messy, muddy, soil-damaged sites.
There is a pattern of site mismanagement happening around New Orleans as we rebuild. Despite federal and state regulations requiring the filing of a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP), one of the first permits needed when developing sites of more than one acre, none of the RSD schools, or former housing project sites, appear to have such plans and permits in place. A SWPPP is a site management plan for preventing runoff from construction activities to enter nearby storm drains. This is why you see silt fences and other creative filtration systems on construction sites. The aim is to reduce pollution and to prevent the clogging of vital storm drains and reduce flooding.
EPA and DEQ have strongly enforced rules in other areas of the state; but, they gave New Orleans a break because of Katrina. However, as evidenced by the lack of site management all over town, it’s long past time for them to pay a visit.
What’s really sad is that the major construction firms doing the most damage are very familiar with SWPPP plans because they adhere to them everywhere else. But, because EPA and DEQ haven’t been demanding compliance, these firms are skirting the laws, resulting in muddy sites that are clogging storm drains and adding pollution to area drainage systems, many of which flow into Lake Pontchartrain.
After sending emails with pictures to representatives of organizations involved in the RSD rebuilding, I’ve received no response and see no evidence of improvements. Thus, I again post pictures and words that I’d rather not. And after such a glowing story in last week’s paper, I am compelled to note that the Times-Picayune reporter evidently was blinded by the green glitz and didn’t see the green being killed under his feet.