Mosquito agency chief laments missed opportunity to acquire tire shredder

    The director of the parish Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control district says he’s disappointed plans have fallen through to acquire a tire shredder that, it was hoped, would reduce abandoned tires in blighted areas that serve as breeding pools for mosquitoes.

    The city-parish missed the Sept. 1 deadline by which it had to spend some $600,000 in grant money from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to purchase the equipment.

    Three days later, Diane Baum, whose environmental services company was going to operate the equipment for the city free of charge in return for the shredded tires, pulled out of the deal, frustrated with the dysfunction and bureaucracy.

    “It’s disappointing because I know people put a lot of effort in the project and worked very, very hard,” says MARC Executive Director Randy Vaeth. “This was an opportunity to have a P3 enterprise and it’s just unfortunate it didn’t work more smoothly.”

    The idea for the shredder originated with MARC, which applied for the federal grant through the Louisiana Department of Health. Metro Council member Matt Watson, who is also running for mayor, became a champion of the project, on the grounds that reducing waste tires could help eliminate blight. He brought in Baum, who saw the deal as a way to source waste tires material for recycling.

    But when the contract went to the Metro Council earlier this year, Council member Chauna Banks objected to housing the shredder on MARC property near the Baton Rouge Airport, citing concerns about environmental racism.

    Two other potential locations identified by the mayor’s office were deemed unsuitable for one reason or another. Finally, in August, Baum found a site that appeared to be ideal and agreed to purchase it herself. But before all the parties could sign off on the deal, the Sept. 1 deadline to spend the money had come and gone.  

    Baum is planning to move forward with acquiring the property and buying her own shredder anyway, Vaeth says.

    “She’s willing to work with us on a sort of proof of concept, where we could still go out, monitor the mosquito population in an area of waste tires and after her people have picked up the tires we’ll go back out and monitor the area.” he says. 

    In the meantime, Vaeth says he is heartened that even though the parish may have missed the deadline to spend the grant money, the state, which is battling a raging mosquito problem in southwest Louisiana due to floodwaters from Hurricane Laura, can still spend the CDC grant to fight mosquitoes.

    “They can use the money on equipment, chemicals, anything they need,” he says.