Following withering debate, the Metro Council finally agreed Wednesday to buy an industrial shredder to dispose of abandoned tires which collect water where mosquitoes lay eggs.
The project originally stalled out over cost concerns. City-parish staff said that with amendments, the projected price could be cut nearly in half.
Even at a reduced cost, the shredder failed to win universal support. Several council members worried the site would be overrun by tires from outside East Baton Rouge. That and other concerns infuriated Councilman Matt Watson, who has championed the shredder purchase.
"It is despicable to me to try to torpedo this project for what seems to me to be petty reasons," he said.
Opponents were bothered by unclear explanations of how the program will work.
Councilman LaMont Cole asked about operating costs and whether the facility would accept waste tires from outside the parish. Authorities from the Louisiana Department of Health and local mosquito abatement office said they didn't have all the particulars he sought.
"I'm not getting straightforward, solid answers," Cole said.
State entomologist Kyle Moppert noted the shredder is to be funded in large part through a $606,000 grant from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It's the first time the CDC has attempted such a program, so the the grant parameters are intentionally open-ended and will be refined as the pilot period takes its course.
The grant does allow outside parishes to bring in tires, but probably to the order of a few trailers every now and then when the shredder has the capacity, Moppert said under questioning from Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis.
She was worried that exact parameters hadn't been put down in writing, and that East Baton Rouge could be overwhelmed by outside waste.
"All of that can be worked out with the CDC," Moppert said.
Pro Tem Scott Wilson sharply criticized what he characterized as "clueless" answers about the project that revealed "too many unknowns."
Wilson and others had previously knocked the proposal for its cost. A previous iteration was pegged at $1.6 million, including the federal grant money. That was based on an estimate from a contractor who was expected to bid on the project.
The city-parish's Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control office is on thin ice with the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council, which has chasti…
Once city-parish staff had a chance to review the contractor's estimate, they were able to knock the total cost down to $888,000, and the city-parish's portion to $284,000, according to documents provided by the mosquito abatement district.
The largest saving was from using existing roads instead of improving a separate approach to the facility which will house the shredder. City-parish staff can also oversee design, engineering, architecture and management in-house, further driving down the cost.
Councilman Dwight Hudson, who worked on the cost savings, said the shredder facility demanded special attention, but there are likely other ways to cut costs elsewhere in local government. Now that the shredder cost has been reined in, even a conservative can see the benefit, Hudson said.
The shredder may also make money, Watson pointed out. Tire shred is used in construction material, so the parish could sell whatever is produced, whether the tires originate in Baton Rouge or elsewhere.
The city-parish may also qualify for some reimbursements from the state Department of Environmental Quality, said Parish Attorney Lea Anne Batson.
Councilwoman Chauna Banks suggested treating the shredder like the landfill, which accepts waste from outside the parish at a more expensive rate.
Councilwoman Barbara Freiberg agreed with colleagues who said the parish should be a little selfish in operating the shredder, but she added that disease-carrying mosquitoes don't observe parish boundary lines.
Other council members reminded their colleagues that the shredder was pitched as a disease-control purchase, but it's also valuable as a tool to get rid of unsightly abandoned tires.
Councilman Trae Welch implored his colleagues to help get rid of tires, which he said is a big problem in his district, which covers Zachary and the unincorporated area in the north of the parish.
Blight affects the economy and residents' quality of life, said Councilwoman Tara Wicker. Buying a shredder won't magically solve blight, but it will help, she said.
Think of the residents fed up with tire dumps who learn that the city-parish has an answer "and we don't even get that right," she said.
Wicker's side, however, won the battle.
Wicker, Watson, Freiberg, Hudson, Chandler Loupe, Collins-Lewis, Welch and Denise Amoroso voted to allocate money for the shredder facility. Cole and Wilson voted against, Erika Green abstained and Banks was out of the room when the vote was called.