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ZURIK: Thousands in payments, Kenner recycling records not adding up

Published: Feb. 22, 2022 at 10:05 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 22, 2022 at 10:41 PM CST
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JEFFERSON PARISH, La. (WVUE) - The City of Kenner suspended recycling for more than a month after Hurricane Ida. However, its recycling provider IV Waste still charged nearly $46,000 for recycling removal that month, and Kenner paid the bill.

“That’s what’s really concerning,” said Dr. Robert Collins, a public policy professor at Dillard University. “It doesn’t appear that taxpayer money is being spent in an efficient manner. Also, it doesn’t appear the taxpayer money is being tracked in an efficient manner.”

In mid-October 2021, Kenner announced on its Facebook page that recycling had resumed. Yet, that month, IV Waste still didn’t dump any recycling at the recycling facility in Baton Rouge, and IV still billed Kenner another $46,000.

FOX 8 looked through documents that show a similar story in November. Nothing in Kenner was recycled by the company, yet Kenner paid IV waste another $46,000.

“It doesn’t appear that there’s been a comprehensive audit of these activities,” said Collins.

FOX 8 reviewed 18 months of recycling billings and invoices that raise questions about Kenner’s oversight over the garbage contract.

Kenner has about 23,000 households. IV Waste gets paid by each house serviced, about $2 per house per month. However, Kenner records show IV only distributed about 7,000 recycling carts, so those are the only homes able to recycle.

In a statement, IV Waste said, “Although Kenner and IV Waste actively promote recycling to the city’s residents, IV Waste cannot force people to recycle. Regardless of how many people wish to take advantage of this service, IV Waste runs that recycling route as required and incurs the cost of doing so. That cost is not insubstantial.”

But FOX 8 found that might not be true. An internal email obtained by FOX 8 shows the lack of carts allowed IV to shorten its routes, saving time and money. In the email, owner Sidney Torres wrote, “We can build a route instead of running every single street.” While IV is picking up recycling from only about 7,000 homes, it bills Kenner for removal from nearly 23,000 homes.

“I mean, you can’t pick up a recyclable material, unless somebody has the proper container,” said Tulane law professor Joel Friedman. “They’ve only given out 7,000 containers. That means that the most there were 7,000 households, maybe less if some people have more than one but probably 7,000 households, the contract says you get paid per household. So, they should be charging whatever the fee is per household times 7,000, not times 22,000.”

The contract allows for the city to ask for a recount of the units serviced, but Kenner apparently hasn’t, and continues to pay IV as if it were picking up recycling at every home.

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The contract also states that the two dollars per household charge includes all costs including collection and hauling. But IV Waste has been able to add on additional charges. Kenner approves those charges every month, even though they might be in violation of the contract.

Since IV Waste took over the recycling contract, there’s been a staggering increase in what’s called “contaminated recycling.”

The prior contractor, Ramelli Waste recycled an average of 52 tons per month. Since May of 2020, IV Waste has been averaging 19 tons of recycled material per month.

The excess, about 50 tons per month, is being labeled as contaminated. IV says residents are putting trash in their recycling bins, so it must go to the landfill instead of being recycled. In video from IV waste, Torres can be heard talking to Chad Pitfield, showing him contaminated recycling. Pitfield is the now-former Deputy CAO for Kenner. He oversaw approving IV Waste’s billings, until he was fired last week.

But IV doesn’t appear to be handling contaminated recycling as stipulated in the contract. The contract states IV must leave materials not designated as recycling outside of homes. If it does end up in a load, it is up to the processing facility in Baton Rouge to reject it. Instead, it appears IV is making those decisions.

In July of 2021, IV didn’t bring any recycling to the Baton Rouge facility until the 16th of the month. However, before then, it delivered 12 30-yard containers of contaminated recycling to the landfill.

For each of those contaminated loads, IV charged Kenner an additional $350 hauling cost, which appears to be in violation of the contract. The former trash contractor didn’t charge anything for contaminated recycling.

In 21 months since taking over the contract, IV Waste has billed Kenner more than $100,000.

In November of 2020, IV told Kenner it only recycled three tons, and labeled 73 tons contaminated. The contaminated hauling fee that month was $7,300.

In March of 2021, IV also started charging Kenner an additional $350 per load to haul recycling to Baton Rouge, even though that is already included in the original rate. That cost Kenner an extra $16,000.

While Pitfield was responsible for signing off on payments to IV, sources tell FOX 8 he set up IV Waste’s Instagram account and had a company email.

In a statement, IV Waste told FOX 8, “At no time did IV Waste ever pay Chad Pitfield to manage any social media account on its behalf or to work for IV Waste in any capacity.”

The additional charges helped IV make nearly double the amount the former trash collector made, in recycling alone. The former trash collector, Ramelli, billed Kenner $264,000 per year for recycling. Last year, IV Waste’s bill totaled over $617,000, with less trash being recycled.

Friedman says he wonders if Kenner residents are getting their money’s worth.

“Kenner’s residents should be outraged,” said Friedman. “This is thousands and thousands of dollars. I mean, it’s not like the city has so much money, they can just throw it away for nothing. I mean, look at all the services people aren’t being provided for now. They’re not getting the trash recovery that they used to get and the amount of recycling and now paying for work that’s not even been done. This is outrageous. But there’s no way the average person can know because the city is not doing anything about it. The only way they find out is from you.”

IV Waste issued a statement to FOX 8 about the recycling, saying, “Regarding the billing question of recycling post-Ida, IV Waste followed its contract as far as billing for all of the homes that we pass each week for pick up and promote for them to recycle.”

The company says Kenner asked it to suspend recycling, to focus on post-storm cleanup. It says New Orleans and Jefferson Parish also suspended curbside recycling after the storm but continued to pay for the service.

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