Tangipahoa Parish skirts fines, signs agreement with DEQ over millions of pounds of shredded tires at the landfill _lowres

File photo from DEQ public records -- Piles of shredded waste tire material sit near the berm of a firing range in Tangipahoa Parish in October and included in a report on an April inspection from the state Department of Environmental Quality. DEQ has filed a compliance order against the parish because this material was supposed to be stored at the landfill location and was not supposed to be stockpiled unless it was destined for a DEQ approved project.

The Tangipahoa Parish Council voted Tuesday to hire a second attorney to help determine its options in its dispute with the state over the use of shredded tires at the parish landfill.

The council also voted to extend a settlement offer to the state Department of Environmental Quality regarding millions of pounds of tire shreds the agency claims the parish stockpiled at the Tangipahoa Parish Regional Solid Waste Facility and Firing Range without DEQ approval.

Details of the settlement offer were not made public during Tuesday’s special meeting. Councilman Nicky Muscarello, in making the motion, said the offer will remain confidential.

DEQ issued the parish a compliance order and notice of potential penalty in June, warning that the parish could owe thousands of dollars per day for the alleged violations.

The council members claimed they were blindsided by the order and, in July, hired attorney Beau James Brock, of Manasseh, Gill, Knipe & Belanger Law Firm of Baton Rouge, to guide them in responding to DEQ.

Tuesday night, they voted to hire a second attorney to conduct a “fact-finding mission” and to determine whether the parish might recoup some of the $120,000 it already has spent on legal fees and the $200,000 to $500,000 officials estimate it could cost to remove or bury the excess tire material.

Councilman Carlo Bruno suggested the company that delivered the tires to the landfill, Environmental Industries Recycling of Port Allen, should be responsible for at least some of those costs, but he stopped short of asking the council to approve filing a lawsuit.

David Ogwyn, EIR’s attorney, urged the council to be prudent with taxpayer money and not make the process adversarial. He said the council could not recover any attorney fees anyway because the parish never had a contract with the recycling company.

“The public wants answers, and it’s up to us to get them,” Bruno said. “I think if we spend money to get the facts, it’ll be well worth the spending.”

Muscarello sought to clarify after the vote that the council was hiring state Rep. Chris Broadwater, an attorney with the Hammond firm of Cashe, Coudrain and Sandage, “for the council’s purpose.”

“I don’t want them answering to the administration,” Muscarello said.

Chairman David Vial said Broadwater would represent all of parish government.

Parish President Gordon Burgess responded, “I represent the people of this parish, and I will be involved.”

“That’s been the problem,” Muscarello fired back.

The dispute has driven deep a wedge that already existed between some members of the council and Burgess’ administration.

Several council members have said they weren’t told about DEQ’s concerns regarding the waste tire materials and basically had to discover it through news reports.

Tuesday’s meeting brought new revelations as well, Bruno said.

“Tonight was the first time we heard that it was Jeff McKneely who told EIR to put the tires there,” Bruno said after the meeting.

McKneely, the parish’s finance director, was not at Tuesday night’s meeting and could not be reached for comment.

That revelation came from Ogwyn, EIR’s attorney, who said the parish had two projects awaiting DEQ approval at the time the shreds were dumped and that the parish’s engineer had calculated, using DEQ guidelines, that up to 54 million pounds could be stockpiled before the approvals came through.

McKneely previously told the council 186 million pounds had been stored on the site.

Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter, @HeidiRKinchen.