Locals want more New Orleans levee truck work

Published 12:00 am Sunday, March 15, 2009

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — When it comes to work, this hurricane-hit region is one of the few bright spots in the nation thanks to the billions of dollars in reconstruction money being spent on levees.

But if you talk to local dump truck drivers, you wouldn’t know it.

Dozens of truckers plan to rally Monday to demand the Army Corps of Engineers give more of the levee work to local drivers. The corps is paying trucks to haul tens of millions of cubic yards of dirt to make levees.

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A group of truckers descended on a corps public meeting Wednesday night and said they wanted more work.

‘‘Our tax dollars, the money that we make, we spend it right back here, in the parish, in the state, it stays here. These out-of-towners, they get paid on Friday, they send the money back home,’’ Dennis Weber, a trucker from Avondale, La., said at the meeting to applause.

The group postponed a rally Saturday because of heavy rain.

Chris Gilmore, a corps project manager, told the truckers that the corps would gather a list of local truck drivers and pass it onto their contractors, suggesting they hire more locals.

‘‘Can’t guarantee you that they’ll hire you, but at least they will have a list of local contractors, and the equipment they have,’’ Gilmore told the truckers. ‘‘We don’t have any control over who the contractor brings in.’’

The truckers’ complaints are not new. Local contractors — particularly small minority firms and black workers — have complained since Katrina struck on Aug. 29, 2005, that they have been frozen out of rebuilding work.

At least one congressional report, a 2007 report by the House Small Business Committee, confirmed those suspicions. The report found that Department of Defense, which oversees the corps, awarded 8 percent of its Gulf Coast recovery contracts to small businesses in Louisiana between August 2005 and Oct. 4, 2006, and fewer still after that date.