[StBernard] St. Bernard Parish tells FBI of rising SDT garbage bills

Westley Annis westley at da-parish.com
Thu Nov 6 23:52:18 EST 2008

St. Bernard Parish tells FBI of rising SDT garbage bills
by Chris Kirkham, The Times-Picayune
Thursday November 06, 2008, 10:25 PM
Three months into his administration, with parish garbage bills more than 14
times higher than the year before, St. Bernard Parish President Craig
Taffaro alerted the FBI to mounting landfill costs billed to the parish
account by local garbage hauling executive Sidney Torres IV.

Taffaro followed that March meeting with one in May, he confirmed Thursday,
responding to additional questions the agency had about the numbers he
provided. Taffaro's former chief administrative officer, David Peralta, also
met with the FBI to discuss SDT, Taffaro said.

Torres said no one from the FBI has contacted him or anyone in his company,
SDT Waste & Debris, either by phone or in writing.

"There's absolutely nothing we're not willing to share or go over -- our
books, records, " Torres said. "We did everything we've been asked to do,
and we have everything to show how we did it."

The revelation that St. Bernard officials have talked with the FBI about the
landfill disposal bills is the latest in a controversy stemming from massive
increases in garbage fees billed to St. Bernard since mid-2007.

Founded in 2006 by hotelier and Chalmette native Torres, SDT got its start
picking up residential garbage in St. Bernard. But the parish saw sharp
increases in its disposal bills at the River Birch Landfill on the West Bank
-- an average of $40,000 a month -- once Torres' company took over a
parish-owned waste transfer site in mid-2007 in which the company sorted
garbage and debris from throughout the metro area.

Construction debris

Taffaro said the meetings with the FBI were to exchange information, and an
FBI spokeswoman said Thursday she could not confirm whether the agency is
investigating SDT's business practices.

"Our meetings with the FBI were not intended to suggest any wrongdoing by
any company, " Taffaro said. "They were strictly to provide information, ask
for guidance and offer cooperation."

Torres said the increases came from large amounts of construction debris
that were brought to the Paris Road transfer site by contractors and St.
Bernard Parish residents. Until earlier this year, the site was essentially
a clearinghouse for SDT's garbage and debris, where trucks dumped loads into
a large pile that was then carted off to River Birch for disposal.

Torres said his company is committed to sitting down with parish officials
and the Parish Council, which recently voted to open an investigation into
SDT and garbage collection in the parish.

"If he (Taffaro) says he had a problem back in March with everything, why
would you continue to pay the disposal bill if there was an issue?" Torres

SDT has had exclusive use of the transfer site as part of a verbal agreement
with former Parish President Henry "Junior" Rodriguez's administration. The
waste-hauling company could bring trash and debris to the site from other
parishes in exchange for allowing St. Bernard residents and businesses to
dump debris into trash bins at the site. The parish pays SDT a $20 monthly
fee for each household from which the company collects garbage, as well as
disposal costs at the landfill.

There are no scales at the transfer station to weigh incoming trash and
calculate bills for separate customers, and until April the parish had no
one regularly monitoring the facility. Torres said the verbal agreement with
the parish included the parish picking up the disposal costs for any debris
brought to the site by parish contractors or residents.

Much of the debris was mixed in with garbage at the site rather than placed
into bins, requiring it to be disposed in a more restrictive landfill at a
higher per-ton cost than if it were construction debris alone.

Parish takes action

Parish officials have said they think St. Bernard has been billed for
landfill costs for other customers' waste. Citing the questions raised by
the company's billings, Taffaro on Monday ordered SDT to vacate the transfer
station of all debris except for St. Bernard waste.

The parish also set a 3,000-ton limit in October for the amount of
waste-disposal fees it will pay, and intends to lower the cap in future
months. Three thousand tons is close to the parish's pre-Katrina monthly
average. In February, SDT billed the parish for more than 12,000 tons at a
cost of $381,000.

In a lengthy, numbers-heavy report delivered to the council this week,
Taffaro wrote that the meetings with "federal officials, " which he later
confirmed was the FBI, came after parish officials tried to reduce
debris-disposal costs by cutting back on the number of debris-collection
containers in the parish and compacting the debris in remaining ones.

The parish also asked SDT to monitor how much debris was brought by St.
Bernard residents and how much by contractors, who should pay SDT directly.
The disposal numbers went down, he wrote in the report, but not enough.

"An immediate reduction of debris delivered to River Birch was noticed but
the levels remained higher than explainable, " Taffaro wrote in the report.
"Residential debris amounts were still running at levels much higher than
would have been anticipated."

Taffaro said he is still waiting on numbers from Torres that would show the
total amount of garbage delivered to River Birch. The numbers would shed
light on whether other accounts were being billed less as St. Bernard's
numbers gradually rose, he said.

Torres said he would also provide those numbers to The Times-Picayune once
he has discussed them with parish officials. Taffaro said he is still

"I'm not hard to find, " he said. "If he wants to bring me the numbers I'll
be glad to look at them."

. . . . . . .

Chris Kirkham can be reached at ckirkham at timespicayune.com or 504.826.3321.

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