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Commission seeks audit of ill-fated recycling facility

Thursday, October 23, 2008 by Mark Richardson

Members of Solid Waste Advisory Commission revealed at a work session last night that they plan to call on either City Manager Marc Ott or the City Council to perform a management audit of Solid Waste Services to determine if the department is being managed properly. SWAC Chair Gerard Acuña said the department made major mistakes in handling the ill-fated project to build a single stream MRF in time for the beginning of the new Single Stream Recycling project.


“On managing the MRF, we tripped, we stumbled. . . and we fell,” said Acuna. ”Somewhere, we lost focus on this. I’m very leery that without backup (documentation) that what is presented to us is fact. Frankly, I am wondering if we (SWS management) are up to the challenge of meeting the Zero Waste goal.”


Acuña was referring to information provided in a report from RW Beck, the engineering firm retained by the city to perform design engineering on the MRF. That report says the company provided the city with plans for the first phase of the facility on Feb. 1, 2008. Scott Pasternak of RW Beck said they began working on second phase of the project in May, only to have the city cancel the project in August. The city has paid RW Beck at least $900,000 for its work and may owe more.


In lieu of having its own MRF, the city is collecting recycling and turning it over to a private company, which is trucking it to a MRF in Garland, near Dallas. There are unconfirmed reports that the city may be losing money on the contract.


The RW Beck report noted that during its work on the project, the budget for the city’s MRF grew from about $19 million to some $72 million, due mainly to changes in the project requested by the city.  It was also learned that in addition to the recycling facility, planned for the site of a closed city Landfill on FM 812, that the city was planning a number of ancillary functions on the site, such as a fueling station and several other buildings.


Pasternak also noted that the city had RW Beck redesign parts of the MRF to align it to a planned Green District next to the MRF site.


Hearing the report from RW Beck was the result of a long-delayed request by SWAC members, who began asking staff for reports as early as late 2007.


“If we had known some of the things we learned tonight back in February, we could have taken some action on the MRF,” Acuña said. “We were deliberately misled on the project. We could have made a significant recommendation if we had known about some of these problems back in February. Instead, the project grew from $20 million to $45 million and on up to $72 million for everything before they killed the project.”


SWAC members voted 5-0 to recommend that City Council move forward with the MRF, utilizing the work already done and looking into the possibility of bringing in private partners who might put up capital for the project in exchange for a long-term operations contract..


“It is presently on hold pending completion of the Solid Waste Master Plan,” said Commission Member J. D. Porter. “It will take two years– at least – to complete the plan, plus administrative time, so we are really looking at three years before the city gets back to the MRF.”


RW Beck’s Pasternak said he was confident that the planning done for the MRF would still be valid after three years, but Porter said that in the meanwhile, the city was stuck with an unacceptable alternative, trucking its materials out of town.


SWAC members also expressed concerns that the Zero Waste program recently introduced by the city could also be held up by staff waiting for the Master Plan.  The SWAC assembled a list of priorities under the Zero Waste program it wants to see Solid Waste staff begin working on, with a request to report back to the commission in two weeks.


Acuña said the commission would officially take up its request for a management audit at its next meeting in two weeks.

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