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Hightower ready to turn sludge into lead at our expense

Questions about Shreveport’s foray into the sludge and sod business have increased from just concerns about the connections that Mayor Keith Hightower has to the enterprise to include whether it represents another attempt for the city to get into a business costly both to its private and public sectors.

From the private sector, you have some operators in the business perturbed that the city has tried to enter this business. Government-run enterprises in almost all cases are exactly the opposite of what Hightower and too many politicians on both sides of the Red River believe and try to sell to the public: they are “lose-lose” operations which allow an inefficient, subsidized producer (government) to push out the more efficient producers (business), sapping both the economy and lifting money out of taxpayers wallets that could have gone to more helpful purposes.

But also some officials in government are rightly apprehensive of this project. City Councilman Thomas Carmody has it right when he questioned whether the marketplace for such a huge quantity (12-15 tons a day) exists and its financial impact to the city.

Part of the answer, the Hightower Administration admits, comes from the fact that the city was under the gun from the federal Environmental Protection Agency to stop producing such a volume by treating it differently. Apparently, entering into a 25-year contract at $2 million a year, minus any revenues made from the product (in the form of costs savings to the city in getting its own sod, $600-700,000 per year), was considered more cost effective than paying for waste treatment upgrades at $26 million.

Why is beyond me. Just do the math – at a net value of $1.3 million per year cost (assuming this stays the same), the contractor would have gotten in 20 years the same amount it would have cost to improve the facilities – and there were another five years left on the contract and the problem would not have had a permanent solution after it was ended, unlike with the facilities improvement option. And does anybody seriously think the city could have made anything but a pittance off the rest – just where’s the market for as much as 3,650,000 tons of sludge a year?

In other words, Hightower would rather shell out hundreds of million of dollars to build money-losing convention centers and hotels that probably will have a net harm on both private and public sector finances than pay a fraction of that to accomplish the unglamorous task of building infrastructure to have a cleaner city. It’s just another example that everything (stadium renovations and impacts on contractors, the Red River Entertainment District, the convention center and hotel, community development grants, etc.) the Hightower Administration seems to touch, as far as economic development goes, turns to lead.

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