Taking Auction Bottle Bill Bottleneck

After several months delay, the IRS finally looks to resell seized West properties The debate continues over whether financial incentives should be used to motivate Tennesseans to recycle

City Beat

The auction of the seized West family properties in downtown Knoxville could take place as early as July, according to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agent overseeing the seizures.

â“We won't set an auction date until after the titles to the properties are free and clear,â” says IRS Director of Asset Forfeitures Jennifer Pollard. â“But we're getting close. I anticipate the auction being set somewhere between July and September.â”

Roughly a half-dozen Market Square properties owned by downtown entrepreneurs Scott and Bernadette West were seized last year when the Wests were convicted of laundering money obtained from a marijuana-dealing operation spearheaded by Scott West's brother, Mike. But the resale of those seized properties was delayed when two lienholders, SunTrust Bank and Cardinal Enterprises Inc., filed legal motions stating that they, not the government, should have first rights in disposing of the properties. SunTrust is still owed around $1.2 million for monies it loaned the Wests for the properties, while Cardinal is owed $105,000.

Cardinal, a development firm, is also the owner of Metro Pulse .

But a federal judge's decision in March cleared the way for the IRS to proceed with the sale once SunTrust and Cardinal have been reimbursed in the amount of their liens. Pollard says those payments have been submitted, and she expects that both lienholders will have been reimbursed by the end of this month.

The only remaining loose end will be finishing repairs to an apartment unit in one of the buildings that was damaged by a kitchen fire earlier this year. The fire in apartment 205 at 18 Market Square, in the building that also houses the Oodles Uncorked restaurant, resulted in some smoke damage and ruined cabinets in the room, as well as water damage (from sprinklers) in the World Grotto nightspot located beneath the apartment in question.

â“We want those repairs to be finished first,â” Pollard says. â“Then we'll have to set the auction date reasonably far in advance, to give people some awareness of what's going on.â”

But Pollard's projected schedule may be too optimistic. â“We've probably passed the deadline for them doing anything before September, says Jimmy Gibson of Morristown property management firm Gibson & Associates. Gibson's company was tapped by the IRS to manage the property. Gibson has experience with such cases, having served in a similar capacity for the federal agency in previous property forfeitures.

â“Their fiscal year ends in September, and if it's not on the roster by now, it probably won't be on there before then,â” Gibson says. â“They seldom authorize any sales when we're this late in the year.â”

When an auction date is set, the information will be posted online at ustrea.gov . â" Mike Gibson

A tall, thin line of type along the edge of the Blue Moon label lists a handful of states offering five- or 10-cent refunds for the bottle's recycling. The small print on the Dasani label lists a couple as well, alongside a Please Recycle insignia. At present, 11 U.S. states have so-called â“bottle billsâ” in place that offer monetary incentives to consumers who return beer, soft drink and other beverage containers to redemption centers. There's a movement to get Tennessee on board as the 12th.

According to Marge Davis, coordinator of the Tennessee Bottle Bill Project, Tennessee annually produces 4.2 billion, or 230,000 tons, of potentially recyclable containers. A bottle bill, she explains, would reduce beverage-container litter by 80 to 90 percent. She points to the success other states have had with bottle bills, such as Maine, which passed its bottle bill in 1976. According to the Tennessee Bottle Bills Project's calculations, the residents of that state produce less than one-tenth of the litter produced by the residents of Tennessee.

â“The recycling ethic is much higher in states with bottle bills,â” Davis says, citing the average municipal recycling rate for the 11 states with bottle bills as 31 percent, compared to 20 percent for the 39 states without a deposit. â“Their litter rate is a tiny fraction of ours. The stuff that is on the roadside disappears under the bottle bill. Maine barely has an adopt-a-highway program at all.â”

But for Tennessee to have a bottle bill program in place, one must first be passed through the state Legislature. And bottle bill legislation, which has been reintroduced to the Legislature nearly annually for decades, still doesn't look to be going anywhere anytime soonâ"but supporters aren't deterred.

â“The bill is still alive,â” Davis says, referring to the Tennessee Beverage Container Deposit Act of 2007. The Senate version, SB1408, sponsored by Sen. Doug Jackson, and the House version, HB1829, sponsored by Rep. Mike Turner, would allow a 5-cent deposit on glass, plastic and aluminum/metal containers of two liters and less, with the containers being returned to independent redemption centers that would retain a 3-cent handling fee per container, paid by the beverage distributor. But there'll be no passage of the bill this year, at least, as it was rolled to 2008 earlier in the year. And according to the bill's opponents, there's no guarantee it'll pass next year, either.

Keep Knoxville Beautiful Executive Director Tom Salter is one of several who question the bill's ability to minimize Tennessee's litter problem. â“Litter is a lot of things besides bottles and cans,â” he says. â“If you look in the water, you'll see bottles and cans because they float, but if you look on the roadside, you'll see a lot of other stuff.â” He warns against thinking of the bottle bill as a silver bullet, favoring instead a comprehensive approach to litter control that includes public education, litter cleanups and stricter enforcement of litter ordinances.

He points out all of the other recyclable materials the bill overlooks, including what he calls â“the biggest offender: paper,â” and suggests that they be taken into account as well. â“Is it worth it as a recycling program? Do we want to incentivize bottles and cans, or do we want to incentivize other materials as well? If we're going to use financial leverage to get people to recycle, let's go all the way.â”

Which sounds easy enough in theory, but translating the theory into reality takes money, and lots of it.

â“It think what the debate centers on is what do you get for the money,â” Salter says. â“There was no support in the Legislature simply because of the financial size of the bill, and it only deals with a small amount of the material out thereâ. The bottle bill would help with litter, but how much? I don't know, and do I want to say it's worth it? I would probably say no.â”

Davis argues otherwise. Such a law, she says, would replace the current funding, which amounts to approximately $5 million annually from county litter grants used to fund programs such as litter education, Keep Tennessee Beautiful, and prisoner litter crews, with $10 million in deposits from unclaimed deposits. If the bottle bill was put in place, such county litter grants would be discontinued, and Davis says she thinks that's why organizations such as Keep Knoxville Beautiful aren't supportive of the bill.

â“Every argument we have, Tom Salter has a response,â” Davis says. She accuses him of putting up unsigned anti-bottle bill websites, and of making fun of her on his Keep Knoxville Beautiful blog. â“It wasn't nice.â”

But Davis remains hopeful that the bottle bill will pass, eventually.

Until it goes back in front of the Legislature in 2008, she says the Bottle Bill Project will focus on â“public education, making people across the state aware of it and helping them understand how it functions.â” â" Leslie Wylie

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