HOUMA, La. - Grocery store owners will be held responsible for abandoned shopping carts after Terrebonne Parish officials said they are a safety hazard and passed a law last week that allows them to be confiscated.
"My mother has run into these things before. Thank God, she was all right. But that situation could have been worse," Terrebonne Councilman John Navy said.
Navy, councilman for District 1, introduced the issue to the council in June after identifying what he says is a "huge problem" in his district.
Shoppers with no car and who live close enough to grocery stores to walk bring carts home and abandon them in apartment complexes, streets, parking lots of other businesses and on sidewalks, residents said.
Business owner Tricia Autin, 38, said she has about five steel shopping carts on her property.
That's because people who live in the apartments behind her storage company bring them to her parking lot because they know it's illegal to keep them, she said.
"The stores don't care about their carts. I manage a business on West Park and have carts from Walmart, Lowe's and Kmart being left in our parking lot weekly," Autin said.
Public Works Department Director Greg Bush said his employees picked up 60 abandoned carts during a collection effort.
The new law requires store owners to put store names on their carts to make it easy to identify the owners. Any cart without identification will become the property of Terrebonne Parish and will be sold or disposed of.
To persuade merchants to prohibit the removal of carts, the law says any store directly or indirectly permitting customers to take them will be held responsible if they are abandoned on public property.
If the parish picks up any stray cart with identification, the store owner has 30 days to retrieve it and will be charged $15 plus an administration fee of $1 per day for storage. The money collected will go to the Public Works Department's budget.
Council members suggested stores install coin machines on the carts, like some places such as Save-A-Lot. The machine requires shoppers to insert a quarter, which isn't released until the cart is returned.
Another suggestion was to attach wheel locks that activate after crossing an invisible property line.
But those suggestions were not added to the law,
Residents have offered their own solutions.
"I think Walmart's parking lot should have the same system for carts as the invisible dog fence. You get a beep warning first and get zapped if you cross the line. If a dog can figure it out after a couple times, I would imagine the people who are taking the carts may learn," Montegut resident Casey Robichaux said.
Harmonie Eschete said she wouldn't mind paying a cart deposit
"I seriously wouldn't mind, if it means people are less likely to leave them out to hit my car," Eschete said.
Representatives from local stores wouldn't discuss the issue publicly or couldn't be reached for comment. But some who didn't want to be quoted said the law is unfair and could get expensive.
The carts they could lose aren't cheap.
"The carts can cost a grocery store anywhere from $49 to $115," said Daniel Acosta, sales representative from Alco Designs, a California-based manufacturer of merchandising products for supermarkets.
Autin said establishing a law charging the grocery stores is pointless because they've never come to retrieve the ones on her property.
"We call the stores. They never come get them. Therefore, the parish will get no money from these stores to get their carts back. Pointless."
"One would think that the logical way to approach this would be to punish the individuals removing these carts. Punishing the store is senseless," said Chauvin resident Craig Dykes, 32.
Police Chief Todd Duplantis said in an email that officers will charge people with the misdemeanor offense of unauthorized removal of a shopping cart. Violators can receive up to a $100 fine and six months in jail.