BR.tireshredder50.051818 (copy)

Shredded waste falls off of a moving conveyor belt on a Tana brand 'Shark' industrial shredding machine on May 16, 2018 at a demonstration organized by Metro Councilman Matt Watson, who is among those who want want the city-parish to purchase an industrial shredder, which he believes will pay for itself by helping dispose of unwanted tires while producing rubber that the city-parish can sell to companies that use it in products like concrete, as well as helping with transportation costs of wastes and efficiently managing space in area landfills.

The rubber is finally hitting the road on the city-parish’s long-discussed tire shredding facility.

The Metro Council on Wednesday unanimously approved a contract handing over a soon-to-be constructed shredding site to Baum Environmental, a private firm that will operate and maintain the machinery at virtually “no cost to the local taxpayer,” according to councilman Matt Watson.

In return, the city-parish agreed to relinquish any claim to the waste tire end products, material Baum Environmental expects to sell for use in products like asphalt and boots. The company also plans to use the recycled rubber in its proprietary erosion and sediment control products.

The tire shredder itself will be funded in large part through a $605,000 federal grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention aimed at tamping down on mosquito populations. It’s the first time the CDC has attempted such a program. 

Tires make ideal breeding sites for mosquitoes. When cast aside, they easily collect water and organic debris, creating the perfect habitat for mosquito larvae to thrive. The “container breeding” pests are known vectors for deadly diseases like Dengue Fever, Zika virus, Chikungunya, and West Nile virus.

The agreement approved Wednesday is a significant step forward for the once beleaguered project, which stalled for nearly a year after concerns over its ballooning cost contributed to the ouster of the parish’s mosquito control director.

That saga began last November when Todd Walker, then the city-parish’s Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control director, told the Metro Council that the $605,000 grant had swelled into a $1.6 million project. The city-parish intervened and succeeded in knocking the cost down to $888,000, largely by relying on in-house architects and engineers instead of private contractors.

Still, that raised red flags for council members who questioned Walker’s ability to lead the department. In April, they ordered he resign. 

After reading about the back-and-forth over the project in the newspaper, Diane Baum, the chief executive officer of Baton Rouge-based Baum Environmental, approached members of the Metro Council with her own proposal.

Under the contract, the company has agreed to cover all expenses related to operating the site. That includes paying employees, obtaining permits, providing security, and purchasing replacement parts for machinery.

“Every single ongoing expense to run this tire shredder program will be assumed by Baum Environmental at no additional cost to the local taxpayers,” Watson said. “It’s a win-win situation.”

Baum said she expects to profit off the agreement by finding innovative ways to sell off the shredded product. She said she hopes, for example, to use the material to create erosion control products that could be used to mitigate runoff around construction sites.

The agreement also takes the burden of operating the facility off Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control, which would have had to hire additional employees to manage the program.

Randy Vaeth, the interim head of the abatement agency, said he was “less than enthusiastic” about that initial arrangement. He said he welcomed the entrance of a contractor like Baum Environmental, which has experience in industrial waste processing and environmental regulations.

The facility will be built at the mosquito abatement’s old site near Baton Rouge Metro Airport. It will primarily process tires from the city-parish Department of Public Works, but will also accept drop-offs from residents and tire retailers.

The city-parish already allocated just under $300,000 out of the abatement agency’s funding for capital improvements at the site, like concrete slabs and roofing, though Watson said at least $100,000 of that money will likely be recouped.

“We certainly won’t have to build unnecessary items that may have been discussed previously because we have people that have the taxpayers and the end result of removing tires at heart, not their bottom line,” Watson said.

Baum expects the facility to begin operations in the spring of next year.

Email Blake Paterson at bpaterson@theadvocate.com and follow him on Twitter @blakepater