Developer John Cummings had plans for an eastern New Orleans neighborhood that involved building better levees. For the nearby residents, that was fine – they just wanted them built with someone else’s dirt. The residents prevailed Tuesday with the city’s Planning Commission, which denied Cummings a permit for a borrow pit, where clay would have been dug from an area between Chef Menteur Highway and Lagoon Maxent.
At a Planning Commission public hearing Tuesday, Cummings defended his proposal for the borrow pit, which he said would be used for levees around eastern New Orleans. He said he planned to leave a lake in the hole left behind. But residents of the area, mainly from the Oak Island and the Mary Queen of Vietnam communities, voiced staunch opposition, citing uncertainty about how it would affect the foundations of their homes, especially given that so much clay has already been taken from their neighborhoods.
“It’s a problem of balance,” said Greg Hamilton, president of the Wimbledon Civic Association. “We support subsidized housing; we just don’t want an imbalance of subsidized housing. We support the levees; we just don’t support an imbalance of resources grabbed from our neighborhoods to build the levees.”
Cummings didn’t deny that position: “All of New Orleans East is a series of borrow pits.” But he said that the clay used from this and other borrow pits around the area will be used to “build a levee so tall that we can all stand up on it during the next hurricane and stick our tongues out at it.”
Cummings said 22 borrow pits are in Eastern New Orleans.
Opponents to the plan cited other problems.
Darryl Malek-Wiley, of the Sierra Club, said that the proposed pit is in an area that is set to be declared residential under the new master plan now being considered by city officials.
He asked for a 30-day delay so Cummings’ plan can be studied more.
Instead, the Planning Commission voted to deny Cummings’ proposal. The final decision lies with City Council, which will receive the plans with a recommendation from the Planning Commission for denial.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the Planning Commission took no action on the matter Tuesday.