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Department starting over on Zero Waste bid process

Friday, October 13, 2006 by

Advisory commission receives assurances they will be involved

After having its recommendation for a consultant put on hold by the City Council, the Solid Waste Services (SWS) Department has decided to reopen the process to find a firm to develop a Zero Waste program for the city.

SWS Director Willie Rhodes made the announcement to the Solid Waste Advisory Commission (SWAC) Wednesday night, noting that the recommendation of R.W. Beck Company would be rescinded and a new set of qualifications would be developed.

Rhodes had recommended Beck to the City Council over the objections of the SWAC, which refused to make an endorsement without having more information about the process. Council Member Lee Leffingwell postponed the item from the Oct. 5 Council agenda based on the SWAC’s resolution.

“We have withdrawn our recommendation on the project and will take a new start on developing an RFQ,” Rhodes said. “We are working with the purchasing department to develop a new process for choosing the consultant. No engineering firms will be required this time, just a consultant with the background to address your concerns about the project.”

At the heart of the disagreement is the definition of what “Zero Waste” is, and how the city should go about achieving it. Solid Waste Services staff has defined Zero Waste as a “significant” reduction in material sent to the landfill, while the city’s Long-Term Solid Waste Task Force foresees a more structured approach designed to increase the amount of recycled materials, reducing landfill materials and creating markets and jobs for the recycled materials.

SWAC members had specifically objected to requiring that only engineering firms be involved in the project, saying this type of program planning could by handled by a wide array of environmental firms.

Rhodes reversal was a victory for SWAC members, who have often complained that city staff bypassed them as an advisory board, seeking instead to have them “rubber stamp” decisions that have already been made. Rhodes and Steve Aden of the city Purchasing Department assured SWAC members that they would be able to help develop the decision matrix on this – and future – decisions made by the department.

“That is not how this process had worked in the past,” said Commission Member J.D. Porter. “The matrix was developed and we were not allowed to see it or give any input. And that’s not the first time it has happened that way.”

Commission Chair Gerard Acuña said he found the entire presentation “very educational.”

Assistant City Manager Bert Lumbreras attended the meeting, and assured SWAC members that their opinions are valued.

“We want to make sure that you are plugged into the process,” Lumbreras said. “You have every right to get the information you need to evaluate programs before you make a decision on them. While there is some information that is proprietary that cannot be released, we’ll see that you get what you need.”

Aden with Purchasing recommended that for the Zero Waste program the department issue a Request for Information (RFI) which would allow them to and the SWAC to see what type of consultants and services are available. From that, a request for proposal (RFP) could be developed with input from the SWAC.

Aden said the new process would likely take six to nine months to complete.

©2006 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Another retirement . . . Don Koehler, the city's manager for the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve Program, has announced his retirement. Koehler, who works for the Austin Water Utility, emailed two colleagues at Travis County, which co-manages the preserve with the city, about his decision the day after commissioners voted to reject the city's request that they approve use of the Cortaña tract rather than the Bull Creek site for Water Treatment Plant 4. Koehler's retirement will be effective Nov. 1. . . . Web site watch . . . While Council Member Brewster McCracken made it quite clear that he was not voluntarily repaying the city $4,000 for work on his site,, Council Member Jennifer Kim let us know we were in error in stating that city officials had asked her to repay $1,300 for her website The city paid for development of in June and Kim reimbursed the city in August.. But Kim sent an email to In Fact Daily stating, "I was not asked by the city to refund the $1,300 for the website. I chose to reimburse the city while we were waiting for answers to some questions involving content and payment. We have since resolved all those issues, it has been determined that the city can pay for the website work, and the city has developed a policy." Actually, the city is still working on that policy, according to Public Information Officer Gene Acuña. He said once that policy is developed, the city would be willing to pay for external sites for Council Members, based on the members agreeing to the policy . . . WTP4 update . . . Although it could be two years before there is "significant earth-moving" on the Bull Creek tract where Water Treatment Plant 4 is slated to be built, AWU Director Chris Lippe says detention ponds and other environmental controls could be constructed in the near future. At the same time, Council Member Lee Leffingwell says the city will continue an environmental assessment of the Cortaña tract "just in case something fortuitous would enable us to move to Cortaña." That fortuitous circumstance would have to include a change of heart on the part of Travis County Commissioners about use of the tract. At some point, he said, the city will have moved too far down the road with the Bull Creek site to move to another tract, but Leffingwell said he does not know whether that would be a month, two or three months from now. Leffingwell said he would be open to moving off the Bull Creek site "if an alternative presented itself." There have been constant rumors of a "third tract" for some time, but none of those who have contacted the City Council with such rumors has been able to point to such a site . . . Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe has written to the City Council to let them know he is still interested in working with them to come up with a strategy on siting the plant that would be acceptable to the city, the county and the US Fish and Wildlife Service . . . Friday the 13th wedding . . . Environmental Board Member Karin Ascot and alternative energy advocate Peter Van Haren will tie the knot today, making Friday the 13th a lucky day for them. Friends and family will gather at Zilker Park tonight to toast the couple . . . Cornyn to address small business group today . . . U.S. Senator John Cornyn, a member of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, will host a small business advocacy forum at the George Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center, Boyd Vance Theatre, 1165 Angelina Street beginning at 11:30am. Cornyn will discuss the critical role local small businesses play in job creation and economic growth in the region. The forum is sponsored by BiGAUSTIN, a small business resource center . . . Burn ban lifted . . . After a good run of rain, Travis County officials decided Thursday to lift the burn ban that was put in place on Sept. 26. That allows, once again, outdoor burning in the county . . . Fire focus . . . This week is State Fire Prevention Week. The focus this year is on the nightclub fire tragedy in Rhode Island that took 100 lives back in 2003. In Travis County, fire officials are making a special effort to inspect clubs in the county's extra-territorial jurisdiction. They're also encouraging people to find a second exit in crowded venues. In the case of the Rhode Island club, many of the deaths occurred because too many people headed for the club's entrance, rather than trying alternative exits. For more information on the fire prevention campaign, go to . . . Conservation Task Force . . . The Water Conservation Task Force meets at 2:30pm at the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall. On the agenda are staff reports and recommendations on conservation strategies relating to plumbing fixtures, metering, cooling towers, and other water-use devices.

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