The $600,000 federal grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that East Baton Rouge Parish left on the table last year, when it opted not to launch a tire shredder program that the grant was intended to help fund, was ultimately awarded anyway to the state, which divided it among multiple parishes for mosquito prevention chemicals.
EBR’s share of the money: $34,700 worth of an insecticide, Dibrom, that is applied aerially and targets adult mosquitoes.
The final allocation of the money, which was administered through the Louisiana Department of Health, ends one of the more unusual controversies of local government in recent years, one that centered on where a tire shredding facility would be located, who would operate it and, ultimately, whether it was really something the parish wanted to do in the first place.
Both officials with LDH and the parish agency that was originally awarded the grant, the Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control District, say they’re satisfied with the way it all worked out.
“That’s how that money was supposed to be used anyway,” says LDH spokesperson Kevin Litten. “The tire shredder was an alternate plan but when some of the problems started and there were delays, we went ahead and filled out the grant for the chemicals just in case.”
MARC Executive Director Randy Vaeth, who was not in charge of the agency when the plan to buy the shredder was hatched, says the chemicals will be put to good use.
“The timeline was such that the state had to spend it quickly and they had already been purchasing chemicals, so they just went ahead and added more chemicals,” he says. “It made sense.”
Waste tires can collect water and serve as breeding pools for mosquito larvae, which is why Vaeth’s predecessor first proposed the shredder purchase. But his plans called for construction of a new facility to house the shredder, which would’ve cost the parish money it didn’t have. He was later forced to resign.
Former Metro Council member and failed mayoral candidate Matt Watson also championed the shredder idea for a time because waste tires contribute to blight in underserved communities. But other council members objected to various locations proposed for the facility, which was why the program never got off the ground and the deadline by which the parish was supposed to spend the money expired.
But the state LDH still managed to secure the grant. It was divided among 18 mosquito abatement districts, including West Baton Rouge.
Meanwhile, Baum Environmental, the private firm that had offered to operate the shredding facility for the parish free of charge in return for the shredded product, is moving forward with opening its own private facility.
Diane Baum says she is waiting on final permits from the state and hopes to open the new facility on Springfield Road later this spring.