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Firms recommend allowing private company to run recycling plant

Wednesday, September 16, 2009 by John Davidson

Seven private firms interviewed about the prospect of forging a public-private partnership with the city to build a Materials Recycling Facility (MRF, sounds like murf) said it should be privately run whether or not it was publically owned.


RW Beck, an engineering firm hired last year by the city to perform initial design engineering for a single stream recycling facility, gave a presentation Wednesday evening to the Solid Waste Advisory Commission on its analysis of a potential public-private partnership to build a MRF.


Scott Pasternak, Senior Director at RW Beck, outlined possible scenarios for such a project, ranging from an city-run MRF on city-owned land built with city capital, to an entirely private enterprise.


In March, the city contracted with RW Beck to explore a public-private partnership following an ill-fated plan last year to design and build a single stream recycling facility on its own. But the city did not give up on the idea and stipulated that any MRF facility should meet certain minimum requirements, including LEED certification, HVAC, two balers, secondary glass processing, public art and other requirements.


Private firms interviewed for the project said that private ownership of an MRF could achieve cost savings that the city could not, but a private would also have to earn a return on what would be steep development costs, according to Pasternak. If the city insisted on its minimum requirements, the private firms recommended the city should build the facility.


In its final analysis, RW Beck recommended that the land for the MRF should be owned by the city and that the capital investment should be made by the city, but that a private company should operate the facility itself. The reason is that many private companies have special expertise with single stream recycling facilities, said Pasternak. “That’s not a knock to the city, it’s just a recognition that these companies have significant expertise in this area.”


Last year, the city hired RW Beck to design an MRF but because of changes in the project requested by the city the budget grew from about $19 million to about $72 million. With costs soaring, the project to build a MRF was canceled last August and instead the city has been contracting with a private company, Greenstar, to truck recyclable materials to San Antonio.


When that contract expires, the city hopes to be well on its way to having a MRF in the city, most likely with some kind of private partnership in place. At Wednesday’s SWAC hearing, city staff recommended Requests for Proposals be sent out for designs for a MRF.

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