Inmates clean up eyesore; homeowner will be charged

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 3, 1998

LEONARD GRAY and MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / August 3, 1998

LAPLACE – Fed up with living next to what he referred to as a junkyard, a LaPlace resident asked the St. John the Baptist Parish Council Tuesdaynight for assistance in getting a neighbor to clean up his yard.

“I have a constitutional right to enjoy my home, and for the last two years I haven’t been able to,” John McIntyre said.

Thursday, the house at the corner of Concord and Madewood in Carrollwod Subdivision got a welcome face-lift, as a swarm of parish jail inmates cleaned up a neighborhood eyesore and health hazard.

The backyard of Theophile “Neil” Duhe at 201 Concord was a thorn in the side of parish inspectors for years, stuffed as it was with old auto parts, rotting lumber, refrigerators, assorted metal scrap and plain old trash.

Neighbors had complained for years, court orders had been issued and the piles and mounds continued to provide safe haven for vermin and foul odors. At the height of the backyard debris was a crumbling barn.On Thursday morning, led by Code Enforcement Officer Allen Weber Sr.,Public Works Director Greg Bush and roads and bridges inspector Farrell Heltz, a work crew from the Inmate Work Program hauled out tons of trash from the fenced-in back yard, then assisted in the demolition of the barn itself.

“He’s been very cooperative,” Bush said of Duhe as the inmates collected the scraps and tossed them into a dumpster. All of the cost of the cleanupwill be charged to Duhe, which could be considerable.

The all-day cleanup project capped an effort spanning years to have Duhe do his own cleanup, to no avail. Matters came to a head Tuesday at theParish Council meeting, when McIntyre complained of the trash.

“You can make all the laws you want, but let’s enforce the laws,” McIntyre said. “All that I am asking is that the council assures us that this will nothappen again. Give the people of St. John Parish some respect.”Duhe told council members he realized the situation was getting worse and that he was trying to clean up the property. But Duhe said he has neverhad his neighbors come to him directly.

“I don’t know all their concerns because they haven’t been brought to me,” Duhe said. “I have started cleaning and will continue the process asfinances become available.”Duhe requested that before any legal action be taken against him he be given 120 days from Aug. 1 to continue cleaning up. As for the vehicles inthe yard, Duhe said all are licensed and insured. He said all are operableexcept one, which he is getting parts for.

St. John Parish President Arnold Labat asked Duhe what assistance heneeded to get the yard cleaned immediately. Duhe asked for patience, butLabat replied that the job needed to be done.

“We have a whole neighborhood affected,” Labat said. “It needs to getdone.”It was done Thursday.

“I’ve been fighting this since 1993,” Heltz commented. “We’ve had severalconfrontations, but he’s addicted to this. He’s a pack-rat.”A judgment against Duhe was issued as long ago as September 1993, but Planning Director Laurette Thymes said the latest judgment was issued July 3, 1996, at which time Duhe was to be fined $50 per day the trash remained on the property.

The cleanup costs, Bush noted, accumulated quickly on Thursday. Thedumpster rented for $350. The cost for the inmate labor was $8.50 permanhour for nine trustees. A deputy for $11 per hour and two parishemployees at $9.25 per hour came into the bill, as well as equipment useof $250 per hour for removal of the barn.

On the plus side, any scrap metal sold to Bayou Steel will be credited to Duhe’s bill, Bush said.

If the bill is not paid within 30 days, Bush added, a lien will be placed on the property. If the lien is not paid, the property will be seized and thehouse likely torn down.

Weber noted a wooden fence had been built to screen the junk from the street, but the fence itself was in bad shape and likewise needed to be taken down.

Not to Weber’s surprise, he noticed Duhe and his son, Neil Jr., loading uptwo pickup trucks with more “select” trash. Weber pledged that would betaken as well. Another derelict vehicle, likewise stuffed with scrap, willalso be moved, Weber noted.

“He did also have three dogs,” Weber said. “They were beautiful dogs, butthey were in bad shape. He agreed to turn them over to the animal shelter.”

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