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The location of a federally funded tire-shredding facility is again up for debate after dozens of Baker residents said its construction at an agreed-upon site near them would lower property values and saddle the area with additional unsightly industry. 

The East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council voted unanimously in February to place the facility at the city-parish's North Maintenance Lot at 3207 Main St. — a site picked as a compromise of sorts proposed by Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome and Councilman Trae Welch after months of debate that frequently laid bare racial and political tensions on council. 

The decision didn't sit well with nearly 40 homeowners in and around the Abundance Place subdivision off Heck Young Road. They met with city-parish leaders in March to voice their concern that the tire-shredding operation would stifle their community's growth. 

"We just want to protect what we have," said Dianne Pullen, a homeowner who helped organize the meeting. "We already have so much industry around us."

A measure to rescind the current location is up for a vote at Wednesday's Metro Council meeting, and if approved, the city-parish has until Sept. 1 to find a replacement site — or else the project could lose its source of funding entirely.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention selected Baton Rouge to receive a $605,000 grant to purchase a tire shredder as part of a first-of-its-kind initiative to tamp down on the region's mosquito population. Tires are 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 grant was originally set to lapse in June, but with the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the deadline was extended to September. 

Darryl Gissel, the city-parish's chief administrative officer, said it's unlikely another city-owned property exists that's capable of housing the facility. He said the Mayor's Office is instead searching for a commercial site that can be leased to the city-parish, though it's not clear how much that would cost taxpayers.

Councilman Matt Watson, a longtime proponent of the tire-shredding operation and candidate for mayor-president, said he's spoken to several people who are interested in housing the facility on their property who "understand that it's a benefit for the community." 

This isn't the first time the city-parish has struggled to find a home for the tire shredder.

The Metro Council initially voted in September 2019 to locate the facility near the Baton Rouge Metro Airport. But that decision received vehement push back from Councilwoman Chauna Banks, who argued its placement would constitute a form of environmental injustice and overload her predominantly black, low-income district with a disproportionate share of the parish's industrial operations.

That site was ultimately dropped from consideration, though Watson said it remains the ideal location given its proximity and accessibility to the "epicenter of the waste tire-dumping problem" in north Baton Rouge. 

Watson blamed Broome, who he is challenging in November's election, for the latest hiccup, arguing that her office should have done the work ahead of time to contact residents in the Abundance Place subdivision before proposing the site to the Metro Council. 

"This neighborhood was upset, they felt walked on, they felt disregarded, and so now we're in a spot where we have to walk back yet another bad mistake from this administration," Watson said. 

Gissell noted that the site received initial approval from leaders in the area — including Councilman Trae Welch and Baker Mayor Darnell Waites — and said the Mayor's Office only intervened in the council-led project to "break the stalemate" and end the controversy. 

"We'll do anything we can to help assist this project," Gissell said.

If it moves forward, the tire-shredding facility will be operated at virtually no cost to the taxpayer by Baum Environmental, a private firm that plans to sell the processed tires for use in erosion prevention and consumer goods. Dianne Baum, CEO of Baum Environmental, estimates the site will initially offer six to 10 jobs with an average salary of $45,000 a year, and has previously made commitments to hire from the surrounding community. 


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