In December 2015, Tubal-Cain proposed a barge-cleaning facility along the Mississippi River near Riverbend, south of LSU. The outrage over the barge-cleaning facility, and the clout of those who are opposed, included environmentalists and elected officials, LSU and BREC.
Fast forward to 2019, the East Baton Rouge Parish Mosquito and Rodent Control (MARC) proposed a tire shredder facility on property near economic development anchors located in north Baton Rouge, including the airport.
Black communities in north Baton Rouge are home to the bulk of the parish’s petrochemical plants and polluted waste sites. Many wondered in 2015 if the same outcry would occur if the proposed barge-cleaning business was headed north, instead of a whiter, wealthier corner of south Baton Rouge.
The Metro Council voted unanimously at its Sept. 11, 2019 meeting to approve a contract with Baum Environmental Group, a private firm to operate the facility and profit by selling the processed tires.
Port of Greater Baton Rouge Director Jay Hardman took a moral position stating his organization considered facilities but rejected them because they could have been disruptive to the community. Facilities that would involve heavy truck traffic through the area weren’t seen as a good fit.
Even the Baton Rouge Area Chamber got involved, with CEO Adam Knapp telling the Baton Rouge Business Report that they wanted to help the company find another location. “Since we became aware of the concerns, we’ve been trying to focus on what alternative sites could be out there,” he said.
In an interview with The Advocate, Knapp was asked why the chamber got involved in the barge-cleaning facility issue but not the Alsen landfill controversy. He responded that landfills by definition are not the type of projects that BRAC focuses on. Knapp added that the barge-cleaning facility does meet that definition, which centers on economic impact.
Veterans Memorial Boulevard is certainly a corridor with current and future economic impact goals. The airport has plans to expand its footprint to include hotels, retail, and restaurants. Are these plans not known by BRAC or just not supported?
One argument sometimes used when new facilities are sited near black communities is that it’s already on an industrial site. If you have three facilities, it’s easier to get four. If you’ve got six facilities, it’s easier to get seven because one more won’t matter. This type of toxic loading is a form of discrimination.
In 2012, the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health studied how much disparity exist along the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge to New Orleans: People in low-income Census tracts have 12% more risk than people in high-income areas.
The agreement between MARC and BEG was approved in the absence of the council members that serve the vulnerable communities on September 11, 2019 (specifically, Councilmembers Green, Cole and myself). A review of the demographics in these districts indicate that there is a huge income and quality of life gap between our constituents and those of council members that voted in favor of this pact.
Blake Hudson, an LSU environmental law professor who also studies land use, said much of the disparity in East Baton Rouge Parish is “grounded in historical legacies.” Moreover, many industrialized areas developed at a time when black residents didn’t have a voice in government; now blacks may have a voice, but it’s ignored.
Both John Delgado and Chandler Loupe sponsored a measure to rezone the site of the proposed barge-cleaning operation. Then-Councilwoman Barbara Freiberg, who succeeded Delgado on the council, was vocal and relentless that the tire shredder's location at MARC will “actually going to make the city better."
However, Loupe, who as an attorney has represented clients in environmental litigation, acknowledged the advantages enjoyed by wealthier residents. “You can certainly argue that the more affluent parts of the parish are more able to mobilize opposition,” Loupe said.
BEG estimates the number of tires that can be shredded at the facility are 10,000 per day. However, the city picked up a total of 22,772 tires for the entire year of 2019.
The tire shredder is more about environmental racism and propagation of political grandstanding.
Chauna Banks represents north Baton Rouge on the Metro Council.