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New life for disqualified MRF bidders?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010 by Michael Kanin

Texas Disposal Systems’ (TDS) roundabout bid to take part in the City of Austin’s effort to construct a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) just won’t die. Despite denials of a rebirth for TDS’ proposal from City Hall, at least one insider believes that the controversial pitch is still generating some level of interest. 


“I know and staff knows that Mayor (Lee Leffingwell) and Council want to see the TDS proposal,” Solid Waste Advisory Commission (SWAC) Vice Chair Rick Cofer told In Fact Daily.


The latest chapter in what has become a months-long saga comes as the request for proposal (RFP) process associated with the project winds toward a date with the City Council.


In an interview with In Fact Daily, Solid Waste Services (SWS) Director Bob Gedert confirmed that he wasn’t quite ready to rule TDS out. Still, he said, any change to the status of the Buda-based waste firm’s bid would have to come from on high.


“(I’m) leaving the door open and awaiting a policy decision from City Council,” he said.


As it stands, staff is currently vetting the eight unnamed bidders involved in the process. If nothing changes, they expect to bring a shortlist of candidates to the Council by sometime in May or June.


Faced with a potential disqualification from the MRF request for proposal (RFP) process based on Austin’s anti-lobbying ordinance, TDS decided to couch its MRF ideas in the form of an amendment to its existing contract with the city (see In Fact Daily, Feb. 10, 2010). City Attorney David Smith then ruled that the proposal didn’t conform to city standards and that neither staff nor the Council could consider it (see In Fact Daily, Feb. 24. 2010).


Among a broad list of ideas about the future of Austin’s solid waste, the bid included an option for a single stream recycling program that TDS said it could offer to the city at no charge. Though there’s plenty of suspicion about that claim, city staff has yet to vet any portion of the proposal.


The Council does have options if it would like to reinstate the TDS bid. It could ignore or disagree with Smith’s ruling and instruct staff to include the proposal in its assessments. Alternately, it could restart the MRF RFP process, leaving out the anti-lobbying provision that might have led to TDS’ disqualification. However, sources say that either of those actions could bring on a lawsuit from the current MRF respondents.


Gedert told In Fact Daily that Austin’s single stream recycling contract is one of the ten largest in the United States. Still, he said, “it’s only a portion of (the city’s) waste stream.”


“When you’re pursuing 90 percent (waste diversion), you have to be looking collectively at all of the waste streams,” he noted. Indeed, in a briefing that he delivered to the Emerging Technology and Communications Committee (see In Fact Daily, April 20, 2010), Gedert told Council members Laura Morrison and Chris Riley that it could take as many as four MRFs to handle the weight of Austin’s future recycling program.


This statement would seem to leave the door open for TDS in another way. For his part, Gedert said that he thinks of the company as a “partner,” adding that he expects the city and the firm to have “a fruitful working relationship in the future.”


Gedert aims to have these and other comprehensive details about the workings for his zero waste drive worked into a master plan. If all goes smoothly, that document would be ready for Council approval in 12 months.

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