For some Galveston residents, the sound of leaf blowers and street sweepers going down their road at 7 a.m. on a Mardi Gras Sunday might be an annoying wake-up call.
For Albert Bernard, it’s the sound of a job well done.
Every year for the past 23 years, Bernard, Galveston’s superintendent of sanitation, has been part of the city’s early morning cleanup after annual Mardi Gras celebrations.
Starting downtown about 11 p.m., a team of 25 or so city employees begin a sweep of the city, clearing trash barrels, picking up loose trash and keeping an eye out for abandoned Mardi Gras beads.
By 8 a.m. Sunday, the job was almost done for the day. This year the pickup wasn’t too difficult, Bernard said, although it seemed more beads that usual had been left on the ground around the city.
“The goal is to make it as absolutely clean as possible,” Bernard said. “We go wherever we can reach.”
Mardi Gras can cause trash to pile up fast in Galveston and other parts of the country. Last week, the New Orleans Advocate newspaper reported crews there collected 93,000 pounds of Mardi Gras beads from clogged city catch basins as part of a four-month cleanup program.
That number was the amount of debris collected from just one of the city’s most popular parade routes, New Orleans officials said.
The haul doesn’t get nearly as big during Mardi Gras in Galveston, where celebrations are limited to two weekends and a relatively small area of the city. Still, Bernard said the crew can pick up at much as 2 tons of trash after the busiest nights of Mardi Gras.
“I love my job, because it’s more than just garbage with us,” he said. “This job has provided a lot for these guys. This job is bringing income to their families.”
After the police and fire department, the sanitation department has the most vital and visible city employees, he said.
“If we don’t do our job, people won’t come back,” he said.
The biggest pains to pick up aren’t the plastic beads scattered around the street, he said, but the individual plastic bags used to package the beads, which are discarded in people’s haste to throw beads to waiting crowds.
Cleaning up after large crowds isn’t a rare event for Galveston’s crews. Last year, after a long Fourth of July weekend, the Galveston Park Board of Trustees reported picking up more than 49,000 pounds of trash from the island’s beaches.
During Mardi Gras, city crews focus on streets and interior areas, while park board crews focus on Seawall Boulevard and the beaches.
Mary Beth Bassett, a spokeswoman for the Galveston Park Board of Trustees, said the board’s own 29-person coastal zone management crew picked up an estimated 12,000 pound of trash between 3 a.m. and 9 a.m. on Sunday.
The park board placed more than 300 trash barrels on Seawall Boulevard in anticipation of the Mardi Gras crowds.
A lot of the clean up is beads and assorted trash, Bassett said. The park board bought extra blowers this year to help coax the beads from under parked cars. But the Seawall crew also removed larger items, including three grills that were left abandoned on the seawall after Saturday’s parades.
The crews were to be back out again on Sunday evening, after the end of the last events of the first weekend of Mardi Gras.
The schedule called for the Bernard’s team to start work at 5 p.m., right before the kickoff of Super Bowl LLI in Minneapolis. It’s not the biggest deal in the world, he said.
“This is our Super Bowl,” Bernard said.