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TDS issue casts shadow over MRF presentations to City Council

Friday, May 14, 2010 by Michael Kanin

The specter of Texas Disposal Systems’ (TDS) disqualified bid to build a Material Recovery Facility (MRF) for the city continues to haunt Council chambers, despite efforts by the Law Department to exorcise the demon. Its latest appearance came as Council members heard from the three official finalists in the request for proposal (RFP) process for the facility on Thursday.


The firms were Balcones Recycling, Waste Management/Resource America, and Allied Waste. Representatives from each company delivered detailed presentations to Council about their respective visions for the Austin MRF. Balcones proposed a privately funded project, while Resource America and Allied Waste touted public-private partnerships. 


Still, TDS – which was disqualified Wednesday from the process by the city attorney’s office — managed to steal the show. Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez was first to raise the subject when he asked for legal advice about that firm’s status with regard to the MRF RFP. “Could that (TDS) proposal be measured in conjunction with these three outside of this process?” he asked.


Assistant City Attorney Cary Grace told Martinez that there was no way for the city to engage in a multi-track review of proposals once an RFP process has been set in motion. “Basically, courts over time have said out of fairness once you pick that process you have to follow all your rules,” she said. “So it doesn’t allow for two separate processes to be going on at the same time.”


She added that there had been “a good bit of litigation” in that arena, and that the courts had been consistent in the decisions that she talked about in her testimony.


Mayor Lee Leffingwell then followed up with a clarification, “It seems to me that what the Mayor Pro Tem was asking about was about information,” he said. “It could be a hypothetical, no name entity that made a bid that was rejected for some technical reason. It still seems that it would be interesting to compare, side-by-side, so that we would be able to see if there was some big discrepancy or some big advantage or some big disadvantage.”


“You’re saying even the information contained in the proposal, even though…you would say in advance that this particular bidder is disqualified—that the information in the report can’t even be disclosed?” he asked.


After some pressure, and an acknowledgement from Leffingwell that he realized that the MRF couldn’t be awarded to TDS under the current circumstances, Grace relented somewhat. “I think (the TDS proposal) could certainly be discussed,” she said.


No questions were asked directly to any of the three official bidders.         


Balcones is a local firm. The firm’s project manager, Sara Koeninger, told the Council that its version of the project would be rail accessible, provide overnight parking and fueling facilities for city vehicles, and would “create approximately 35 green jobs during the first year.” Their MRF itself would be, “at a minimum” silver LEED certified, she said.


Waste Management is a large, national firm. According to the company, their MRF would bring close to 70 “permanent ‘green collar’ jobs for Austin Citizens,” allow for Single Stream recycling to collect four new materials, and come with a gold LEED certified complex.


Allied Waste is also a national corporation. Its proposal included provisions for educational outreach, a silver LEED facility, and an option to ship the city’s trash to its Sunset Farms Landfill—a move that they argued would save the city on operations costs and travel expense. Austinites will likely remember Allied affiliate BFI, whose East Austin recycling facility was shuttered under intense community pressure in 2001.


After the hearing, TDS CEO Bob Gregory told In Fact Daily that he disagreed with the idea that the city had to follow the current RFP process through to the end. “Clearly, the RFP allows them to throw out the proposals at any time and stop the process,” he said. “The staff has ruined this process by disqualifying TDS before we were even qualified to be disqualified.” 


Council members are scheduled to vote to approve one of the three proposals at their June 10 meeting.

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