The state Department of Environmental Quality sued a Port Allen waste tire recycling company that it claims delivered tons more recycled tires than allowed for projects the state had approved but still charged a state-run fund for the full amount.
DEQ claims the company delivered 46 million pounds of recycled tires beyond what had been preapproved by the state agency. DEQ is seeking the reimbursement of $3.4 million. The company had delivered 66 million tons of tires from the state during the period in question, 2008-2013.
The lawsuit, filed in Baton Rouge state court, alleges that Environmental Industries Recycling, Inc. received the payments for shredded waste tires delivered to the parish-owned Tangipahoa Regional Solid Waste Facility.
During that time, the lawsuit states, DEQ paid EIR $5 million from the waste tire fund for 66 million pounds of shredded tires and is seeking repayment of a portion of that money.
DEQ asserts in the June suit that by delivering more pounds of waste tire product than there were authorized projects to build, EIR has been overpaid.
EIR owner Buddy Dupuy disputes that finding and says all of the waste tires have been used, or will be used, in approved projects.
“We believe that all of the waste tire material processed and delivered by EIR has been in accordance with the regulations, EIR’s permit and the landfill’s two permits as a Solid Waste facility and a Qualified Recycler,” Dupuy wrote in a statement. “We are committed to working with the Department to ensure that they have the most accurate and up-to-date information and are hopeful this information will allow a quick resolution.”
In a subsequent interview, Dupuy added that the situation is one in which DEQ and the company representatives just need to sit down and talk it out.
“All the answers are there. All the documentation is there,” Dupuy said.
The waste tire program is meant to keep old tires out of landfills by having them shredded or chipped and then reused for preapproved projects such as playgrounds. Materials used for the projects are eligible for a payment of 7.5 cents per pound. Money to pay the businesses comes from the fee customers are charged when their used tires are replaced.
The lawsuit alleges that while the Tangipahoa landfill had a number of preapproved projects to use the shredded tires, EIR repeatedly delivered more than the approved amount and received payment from the state tire fund.
DEQ records show that EIR’s only customer for the shredded or chipped waste tire material has been for projects at the landfill in Tangipahoa Parish, according to the lawsuit.
EIR owner Dupuy said that while his company has done a couple other projects, most of the company’s work has been with the landfill, which has a need for the shredded tire material to supplement the dirt it uses for roads, levees and daily cover of the landfill itself.
“It’s been good for us and good for the state,” he said the waste tire program.
Although not named as a party in the lawsuit, the Tangipahoa Parish Council voted July 14 to hire an attorney after receiving a letter from DEQ in June stating the parish could be found liable for misused waste tire material in the construction of a firing range and levees at the landfill. The parish has until Aug. 12 to respond to DEQ.
The possibility of overpayment to a tire processor like EIR was the subject of multiple Louisiana legislative auditor reports dating to 2008 warning that there weren’t enough controls in place.
“We first reported weaknesses in controls over payments to WTMP (Waste Tire Management Program) processors in our engagement that covered fiscal years 2008 and 2009,” according to the 2015 audit, which echoed a 2014 audit, as well.
The lawsuit also was foreshadowed in early April when a high-level DEQ official, Vincent Sagnibene, who was in charge of the tire program, had his appointment as undersecretary revoked by Gov. Bobby Jindal due to “programmatic deficiencies.”
The same day, Sagnibene retired from his fallback position within the agency.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.