Residents, council members and other city-parish officials sparred at a raucous community meeting Tuesday evening that centered on the placement of the city-parish's proposed tire shredding facility.
The facility, which will be funded through a $605,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention aimed at tamping down mosquito populations, is expected to be built on property leased by the Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control facility near the Baton Rouge Airport.
Councilwoman Chauna Banks said that's a problem.
“This community has made too many sacrifices with no reciprocal goods," said Banks, whose north Baton Rouge district includes the airport, Ronaldson Field landfill and a wastewater treatment facility.
“As innocent as this project looks today, that’s exactly as Ronaldson looked 30 years ago, and now it’s a monstrosity," she added.
The East Baton Rouge Metro Council voted unanimously at its Sept. 11 meeting to approve a contract with Baum Environmental, a private firm that has agreed to operate the facility at virtually no cost to taxpayers by selling the processed tires for use in erosion prevention and consumer goods.
Banks was in Washington, D.C. at the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference during that vote. The Metro Council is expected to talk about the tire shredder's location as an official discussion item at its Nov. 13 meeting.
At the community meeting Tuesday, councilman Matt Watson, long an advocate for the tire shredding facility, defended the project to the two dozen people in attendance.
“We need to get these tires up,” Watson said, holding up a map of red dots showing 311 complaints about dumped tires. “I want us to be as aggressive as possible and get ahead of this.”
“Just not here,” Banks said as Watson spoke.
Watson assured the room that any shredded tires that aren't immediately processed would be transported to his district for storage.
"We want to save you some miles," Banks said. "You don't even have to take it there if it's already there."
Banks repeatedly said she was not opposed to the idea of a tire shredder but instead was opposed to the shredder being located in her district.
“This is not a landfill. This is not a chemical plant. This is a process to get pollutants out,” Watson said.
“It doesn’t matter,” Banks said.
Her stance made some residents in attendance angry.
“You keep saying its negative. I would just like to know what you’re basing your facts on,” said one audience member.
After a number of black residents expressed support for the measure, Banks said: "This is a new twist; we've never had blacks fight against us."
“That’s it. I’m done,” responded one woman, who is white, storming out with a handful of other residents of both races.
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 tire shredding project stalled for nearly a year after concerns over its ballooning cost contributed to the ouster of the parish’s mosquito control director.
The CDC grant is a pilot program which, if successful in reducing mosquito populations, could be replicated in other jurisdictions nationwide. There is a June 2020 deadline on utilizing the grant, said Randy Vaeth, the interim director of the mosquito abatement agency.
At the end of the meeting, councilwoman Barbara Freiberg said the tire shredder's location at MARC had been discussed at "meeting after meeting."
"We always envisioned it there," Freiberg said. "It's actually going to make the city better."
"Put it in your neighborhood then,” responded one audience member.