Woolworth landfill

SHREVEPORT, La. – Failure by the City of Shreveport to enforce a local law that requires commercial waste-haulers to use the city’s landfill has resulted in millions of dollars in lost revenue, a review of public records by KTBS News has found.

Now, seven months after the city first threatened to take legal action, it's about to hire a lawyer to try to collect.

Private sanitation companies routinely pick up trash and garbage they collect at businesses throughout Shreveport and take it to Mundy Landfill in neighboring DeSoto Parish, a parish-operated facility that markets its services to other parishes and charges less to accept trash than Shreveport’s city owned Woolworth Road landfill.

But doing that violates Shreveport city ordinance, which requires that trash picked up in the city limits be taken to Shreveport’s landfill, which charges by the ton to take trash, garbage and other materials. There are approximately a dozen private haulers operating in Shreveport, from corporations to part-timers with a handful of trucks.

Taxpayers in Shreveport are making up for the lost revenue through a garbage fee added to their monthly water bills. That $7-per-month fee started in 2019 after years of residential garbage and trash pickup being part of basic city services.

Figures provided by City Hall in response to a public records request by KTBS News shows revenue at Woolworth Road from commercial haulers has declined more than 40% over the past five years. The city’s share of revenue from commercial haulers was barely $1 million last year, compared to $1.7 million five years ago. Revenue declines to the private company that operates the landfill for the city were down 43%.

Shreveport’s director of Public Works in November sent out letters to commercial haulers, detailing the city ordinance and notifying the companies they must follow it.

Failure to abide within 15 days of receipt of the certified letter “will result in enforcement action and fines” of $500 per vehicle each day, Public Works Director Gary Norman said in the Nov. 11 letter obtained by KTBS News.

Seven months have passed since that letter was written and the city now appears ready to take follow-up action on its threat by going to court.

The City Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on hiring a private attorney to enforce the ordinance. As part of his contract with the city, the attorney would get 25% of what he collects.

Shreveport City Attorney Ron Lattier refused to comment on the issue, as did lawyer Ken Antee, who would be hired to try to enforce the ordinance. Antee was the city's chief administrative officer under former Mayor Keith Hightower.

“I cannot comment on potential and/or pending litigation,” Lattier said in an email.

Potential suits to try to force more private haulers to use Shreveport's landfill so far is not causing alarm in DeSoto Parish. Parish Administrator Steve Brown was not aware Monday of the City Council’s potential vote Tuesday. But the parish has been prepared for a legal challenge. The DeSoto district attorney has already authorized employment of outside legal counsel, Brown said.

The question remains if Shreveport’s ordinance is legal, Brown said.

He aid the volumes of waste being diverted from Woolworth to Mundy are not “extraordinary,” estimating it to be about 10% or less of the total tonnage. But there’s also the option, he said, of substituting volumes, in that “if something comes to us from Shreveport we can take something to Woolworth in its place,” Brown said.

Loss of revenue at the city landfill is frustrating to Shreveport City Councilman James Flurry, who voted against the $7 per month sanitation fee. He has called for police, who have an environmental crimes officer, to investigate and ticket commercial haulers who don’t use the city landfill as required.

“We need to collect every dime the taxpayers are due,” Flurry said. “We see the trucks all the time on I-49 heading toward DeSoto; I see them come back empty.

“They need to stop the trucks," Flurry said in comments before the proposal to hire a lawyer was presented to the City Council. “We’ve got an environmental officer. I don’t know what he’s doing.”

A Police Department spokeswoman said no tickets have been written for violation of the ordinance.

The city generates about $5 million a year from the garbage fee levied against citizens, which funds solid-waste collections and has provided pay raises for sanitation workers. Money raised by the monthly fee exceeds the decline in revenue at the landfill.

City crews pick up residential garbage and trash in Shreveport and take it to the city landfill.  Commercial waste, which is placed in dumpsters, is collected by private companies and is supposed to go there, too, if it's collected in Shreveport.

The Woolworth Road landfill is operated by a private company, Republic Services, which provides equipment and personnel to handle waste disposal and gets the majority of revenue from landfill-use charges. The city, which sets rates, staffs the landfill gate and collects money from haulers, receives about a fourth of landfill revenue. 

The DeSoto Police Jury runs its landfill; however, it has a contract with a private company, Live Oak, to market the facility. In return, Live Oak gets a “small discount” to take waste to DeSoto Parish. Live Oak handles collection and hauling for Bossier City.

The Police Jury has a similar arrangement with another private company, Jones Environmental, for years prior. But parish leaders felt they could increase waste volumes at Mundy with a change so that’s why they went with Live Oak, Brown said.

The landfill business is a major source of revenue for DeSoto Parish. Revenues from dumping fees at its Mundy Landfill have increased eight-fold over the past six years – from $936,000 in 2015 to $7.2 million last year, according to the DeSoto Police Jury.  Part of that revenue helps pay for parish road projects.

Rates vary but the DeSoto landfill charges are almost all lower than Shreveport’s. Municipal solid waste charges, for example, are nearly $10 a ton cheaper at DeSoto, a significant savings for businesses that haul tens of thousands of tons of garbage a year. 

So much traffic is going to the DeSoto landfill that the parish has asked the state Department of Environmental Quality for approval to expand the landfill before it runs out of room. Parish officials acknowledged in their application that they recruit haulers in other parishes.

A majority of the waste comes from within the parish. But the high volume customers are Bossier City, oil and gas companies, other special waste companies, Pratt Industries and from locations in other parts of Louisiana and East Texas. Negotiations are underway with an unnamed customer that will be a “fairly large generator of waste,” Brown said.

“The DeSoto Parish Police Jury has marketed the landfill’s capacity to dispose of industrial and commercial wastes along with residential waste from outside the parish to increase revenue from tipping (dumping) fees,” DeSoto Parish wrote in its application. “Increased profitable waste streams translate into increased revenues for DeSoto Parish which help fund solid waste collection and disposal operations and also help fund other parish services, such as road maintenance.”

The new waste disposal cell should be completed this fall, Brown said. Then the Police Jury will immediately begin plans for the next one.

“We will start plans for another one this year or next year. We always do,” Brown said.

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