I had to laugh when I read Rich Rainey’s latest installment in as the landfill turns as he chronicles the completion of the scheme Theriot and his band of idiots on the Parish Council have hatched to put the fix in for River Birch via a controlled evaluation of a flawed contracting process. Before we get to the latest on Theriot’s dog and pony show we should do a quick review of the River Birch saga to gain clarity on what the team will be reviewing.
The River Birch landfill, majority owned by the Ward family, almost had one of their own, Fred Heebe, installed as NOLA US Attorney by George Bush back in 2002. Heebe, Jim Ward’s step-son is a member of the ownership group of the landfill and is married to Jennifer Sneed, who left the Parish Council literally months before the Parish opened negotiations with the River Birch landfill to become the parish’s sole source for waste disposal.
These negotiations resulted from a request for proposals for the disposal of tree limbs and such by disgraced former Parish President Aaron Broussard. Broussard’s contract evaluation team included a number of former parish employees now under an active federal investigation and included former Parish Attorney Tom Wilkinson and former Parish CAO Tim Whitmer. That contract evaluation team expanded the scope of their charge to include proposals for all waste disposal, such services being provided the Parish by Waste Management under a long term contract using the Parish’s landfill. It turned out Whitmer was moonlighting as an insurance agent and besides selling insurance to the Parish itself he was also selling River Birch along with a multitude of other Parish venders.
Interim Parish President Steve Theriot cancelled several Parish contracts with companies that did the “pay to play” thang with Whitmer to great fanfare but left River Birch and their curious contract with the Parish alone despite the under handed way it was let. We later found out that Theriot was a protege of former Louisiana House Speaker turned Senator John Alario. Alario had some very curious connections to the landfill as a staffer of his garnered a 4% stake in the landfill in return for Alario killing his own bill to deprive River Birch of a needed state environmental permit back in the mid 90s.
So despite all the documented problems with the River Birch contract and the less than transparent process under which it was awarded, the Parish Council is seemingly worried more about Waste Management, the company they sued late last year in order to get them out of the River Birch’s way. With that background laid let’s catch up with Rich Rainey’s reporting on the evaluation process beginning with this story from this past April:
Showing heightened wariness of ethical conflicts, perceived or otherwise, the Jefferson Parish Council has rescinded its choice of a Richmond, Va., engineering firm to examine the parish’s landmark garbage disposal deal with River Birch Inc.
The decision came after officials discovered that the firm, Joyce Engineering, did contract work for Waste Management Inc., the international conglomerate that has managed Jefferson’s public landfill for the past decade but stands to be ousted by the River Birch agreement.
“We’d just rather find somebody who hasn’t done anything with Waste Management or River Birch so that we’ll have no appearance of any impropriety and no conflicts,” Councilman Tom Capella said. “And that’s proven to be difficult because these companies are big.”
Of course the conflicts are inherent to this process due to the preferential treatment River Birch has already received compared to other parish venders that were doing the pay to play thing with Whitmer as I noted above. The public sees all of this of course, which is why there is little this confidence this process is more than window dressing.
Speaking of conflicts the process has been a long one and the council finally settled on a CPA firm, Postlethwaite & Netterville to do the contract evaluation working with an engineering firm to be selected later. That selection has been finally been made as a small firm from Texas, MSW Resources was brought on board as Rich Rainey reports:
After an exhaustive search and an unusually high degree of scrutiny, Jefferson Parish interim President Steve Theriot’s administration is recommending an obscure Texas engineering firm, MSW Resources, to help examine the plan to close the public landfill for the next 25 years.
Should the Parish Council accept the administration’s choice today, MSW will partner with accounting firm Postlethwaite & Netterville of Baton Rouge to comb through a deal that could divert almost all household garbage to a private landfill owned by River Birch Inc. The full audit’s cost will be capped at $85,000, according to council resolution.
The recommendation of MSW comes after a protracted legal battle and months of political twists that left the year-old contract with River Birch languishing.
So is the fix in with the engineers? This MSW outfit has a very recent and possibly curious history as we continue:
In a compromise, Postlethwaite & Netterville was hired on condition that it must partner with a landfill engineering firm that doesn’t have a similar conflict. That led the firm to drop its original partner, Environ of New Orleans, which also had worked with Waste Management.
Little is known about MSW. Documents from the Texas comptroller of public accounts show the company registered with the Texas secretary of state’s office on Feb. 4, about a week before it put in a proposal for the Jefferson Parish work. There is no record of MSW in the Louisiana secretary of state’s corporation database.
“I don’t know that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that, but I’d like to get more information about their longevity in business if that’s the case,” council Chairman John Young said Tuesday.
Besides these questions about MSW the devil is in the details of this process. For example exactly what criteria is the River Birch contract being evaluated? Is the bid process, which excluded Waste Management under scrutiny? Is the criteria used going to produce a desired result? Luckily for the Slabbed Nation I’m also a CPA who knows a thing or two on research and there is loads of information on landfill pricing across the region on the internet. Let’s begin with Paul Rioux at the Times Picayune circa June 2009 to obtain River Birch’s pricing:
River Birch will be paid a tipping fee of $21.50 per cubic yard for household garbage from unincorporated areas of the parish and Jean Lafitte.
That’s a dollar more than the parish currently pays Waste Management to operate the parish dump, but the parish’s overhead costs to maintain and continually expand the dump are more than enough to offset the difference, Wilkinson said.
In that story we also had Tom Capella and Byron Lee cheerleading the supposed savings from a process that excluded competition so how does that price stack up against other landfills in the south? Let’s visit with the newspaper consortium that collectively makes up Al.com and reporter Ben Raines to begin the comparisons:
For example, the landfill in southeast Alabama’s Coffee County charges a contract rate of $18.55 per ton of garbage, according to the county’s Web site. Landfills in Northeastern states such as New Jersey or New York sometimes charge more than $100 a ton. That price differential makes the South — and Alabama in particular — an attractive destination, even for garbage generated 1,000 miles away.
The Perry County Associates Landfill, owned by a Georgia company, can accept up to 15,000 tons of garbage a day and can draw from 16 states.
Yep, the entire State of Alabama is a glorified landfill, a secret us Mississippians have been keeping for far too long as we continue:
The Brundidge Landfill in Pike County can accept 7,500 tons a day. It was purchased in 2007 by TransLoad America Inc. The New Jersey company’s Web site touts the Alabama landfill as a “key destination for TransLoad’s national waste-by-rail strategic plan.”
The facility accepts garbage from Louisiana and the 26 states east of the Mississippi River. Operating at capacity, it would generate about $3 million a year for the town of Brundidge, according to information on the company’s Web site.
I wonder if this alternative was considered by the Parish and does the scope of the evaluation include running such comps? Not satisfied with this nation’s low cost landfill producer in the State of Alabama I expanded my googling and came up with per ton tipping fees for landfills in South Carolina and several other southern states. The variance in the tipping fees between the landfills is amazing in respects.
So is paying River Birch a dollar more per ton (via a bid process which excluded Waste Management and other qualified venders) over the current setup a good deal for Jefferson Parish residents? Follow the money folks and the answer becomes clear.