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Is Metro Government To Blame For The Louisville Zombie Walk Mess?

The carnage lingered well after the walking dead cleared Bardstown Road this past weekend. Trash flooded from overfilled garbage cans and lined the street. Beer bottles, food wrappers and bits of costume dotted with fake blood mounded in bus stops and business entryways.

The some 30,000 people who paraded down the city's beloved Highlands entertainment district for the annual Louisville Zombie Attack had left a major mess.

"I knew something had gone wrong," said Lyndi Lou, the event organizer, upon her return to the stretch of Bardstown Road the following day. She said it was more trash left behind than any other Zombie Walk.

But why?

The official attendance numbers aren't yet finalized for this year's event, but Lou is confident it was the largest crowd yet. And it coincided with the annual Highlands Festival — meaning even more people were lingering around the Bardstown Road area between Eastern Parkway and Highland Avenue.

Lou said the trash cans placed throughout the area were packed by 1 p.m. Her permit lasted until 1 a.m., nearly 12 hours later.

But the problem was bigger than just the crowd.

In filling out her application, Lou said she forgot to signify she'd need assistance from Metro Public Works to clean the street. That request, she said, "just got passed by." It could have made all the difference.

The day after the event, Lou returned to Bardstown Road to retrieve some equipment. She said she attempted to clean a bit, but there was just too much trash.

The city eventually took over the cleanup effort, and Lou will likely be on the hook for the bill. A spokesman for Mayor Greg Fischer's office said the total cost for the cleanup hasn't been calculated.

But did the city go far enough to ensure leftover trash could be avoided? And did officials skip some standard procedures that could've guaranteed a timely cleanup?

Applicants for a special event permit are required to submit a plan for recycling and waste, according to the city's website. So why wasn't the Zombie Walk?

Lou said the topic never came up when she went over her application with city officials.

"Most of what we talked about when I dropped off my application was public safety," she said.

Robert Kirchdorfer, the city's director of codes and regulations, said he is unaware if a plan was ever submitted.

"We should have required one," he said. "I'm looking into that, with staff."

Kirchdorfer admitted the city should have asked more questions about Lou's plan for getting the road cleaned up following the event. "We're trying to get to the bottom of it so it doesn't happen again," he said.

Special event permit applicants are also required to submit a damage and cleanup deposit of up to $1,000 prior to the permit's issuance, per the city's website.

Kirchdorfer said no deposit was submitted in this case. In fact, he said a deposit is required only on a "case-by-case basis." And he added he's not sure if a deposit had ever been required for an event on a public street.

Zombie Walk organizers paid only the $75 application fee, as well as costs associated with insurance and the hiring of off-duty police as security, Kirchdorfer said.

Applicants for special event permits are also required to submit with their application a petition showing at least 75 percent of all residents and businesses in an area approve of a street-closing, according to the city's website. Kirchdorfder said no such petition was submitted with the application for the Zombie Walk.

And he said his office would work to determine who, specifically, is responsible for the cleanup fee — the Highlands Festival or the Zombie Walk.

Kirchdorfer couldn't say whether Zombie Walk organizers violated any policy by allowing the trash to remain on the street nearly a full day after the event had closed. But he said the attention paid to the aftermath has "opened some eyes." Moving forward, Metro officials will more carefully examine applications, he said.

"We're going to review our whole process here of the applications and make sure we've got an open communication and make sure we are asking questions," he said.

Regardless of the stumbles throughout the Metro permitting process, Lou isn't shying away from the issue. She said it's on her and has apologized for the mess. And she stressed the leftover trash issue wasn't malicious or intentional.

She expects to get the bill from the city sometime in October. She doesn't make a profit off the event and said whatever costs she's forced to pay will come from her own pocket. She works as a tattoo artist.

As for next year, Lou isn't sure what the plan for the Zombie Walk will be, or even if it will remain on Bardstown Road. However, she said there will be a plan to pick up the trash, that's for sure.

(Featured image from Louisville Zombie Attack 2013)

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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