Piles of trash don't lie: Mardi Gras has rebounded

Judging by the mounds of broken beads, plastic bags and food scraps left in the wake of this week's parades -- and the number of workers needed to clean it all up -- Carnival has rebounded to its pre-Hurricane Katrina strength, New Orleans' sanitation director said Wednesday.

Though City Hall no longer measures the season's success by the amount of garbage left on the streets -- the method encourages revelers to trash the city, officials say -- Sanitation Director Veronica White said that based on the number of laborers and pieces of heavy machinery she deployed to clean up after parades this year, the celebration has returned to levels unseen since the August 2005 hurricane.

"This year there was definitely more trash," noted White, who said she rides behind each night's final parade to oversee trash crews' first sweep of the routes. "It was definitely more like normal, more like pre-Katrina than the past few years."

Though the history books officially closed on Carnival 2008 on Tuesday at midnight, trash crews are expected to continue working overtime to rid neutral grounds along the Uptown and Mid-City parade routes of refuse missed in the initial pass, White said. They also planned to target the first block or two of side streets next to the routes.

"I anticipate that we'll be back in tip-top shape by Saturday morning," she said.

More than 200 workers hit the streets this year to undertake the messy cleanup job, White said, including more than 50 employees of the city's Sanitation, Public Works and Parks and Parkways departments, 150 temporary workers hired through Labor Ready Inc. and 25 inmates from Parish Prison.

Their fleet included 10 street sweepers, six front-end loaders, eight garbage trucks, three water trucks, three pressure washers and 12 dump trucks, according to a news release.

To handle the extraordinary mess in the French Quarter, the city executed an option of its $8.9 million annual contract with SDT Waste & Debris that calls for the firm to provide extra trucks and crews during the final two weekends of Carnival, White said. According to bid documents, those services cost an additional $106,892.

White said she did not execute similar provisions of the city's contracts with Metro Disposal and Richard's Disposal, which earn a combined $24.6 million a year to provide semiautomated trash collection to neighborhoods outside the French Quarter, the Central Business District and the Warehouse District. Each company would have earned another $300,000 if those services had been requested, bid documents show.

Officials also reassigned debris-collection contractor J.N.E. Inc. to keep clean the section of St. Charles Avenue from Lee Circle to Canal Street, White said. Since June 2006, J.N.E. has functioned as the city's Tactical Trash Force, a three-crew operation charged with collecting piles of debris heaped in front of storm-damaged houses or dumped illegally on public grounds.

The firm earned $5 million for that work through December 2007, White said, adding that she intends to file paperwork soon to seek reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover the cost. J.N.E.'s Carnival cleanup work was included in a $1.5 million contract extension that the City Council financed as part of the 2008 budget, White said.

In addition to their regular duties, Metro and Richard's pitched in over the past weekend by donating red beans and rice, pizza and fried chicken to feed sanitation workers pulling overtime shifts, White said. River Birch Landfill in Avondale, where the city dumps its household waste, also contributed food and beverages, she said.

Michelle Krupa can be reached at mkrupa@timespicayune.com or (504) 826-3312.