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Mark Richardson is a multimedia journalist, editor and writer who has worked in digital, print and broadcast media for three decades. He is a nationally recognized editor and reporter who has covered government, politics and the environment. A journalism graduate from the University of Texas at Austin, he was recently awarded a Foundation for Investigative Journalism grant and has three Associated Press Managing Editors awards for excellence in reporting.
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Allied, Greenstar battle for contracts apparently going to others
With Council members having officially bypassed the bid process and contemplating ordering staff to begin talks with two companies for the city’s recycling services, some of the players were revving up their public relations efforts Tuesday to try and tilt the playing field in their direction.
A pair of competing items on Thursday’s agenda would allow the city to begin negotiations with companies outside of the bid process. One resolution — which has the apparent support of at least four Council members — would open talks with Balcones Resources and Texas Disposal Systems for a long-term and short-term agreement for recycling services, respectively.
A second resolution would direct staff to negotiate a long-term agreement with Balcones and extend the current contract with Greenstar Recycling on a short-term basis. Both resolutions seek to establish a partner for the city in building a Materials Recovery Facility, or MRF, and would also provide for handling the city’s recycling until a MRF is up and running.
Council members voted two weeks ago to toss out the results of a months-long request-for-proposal process, in which the city evaluated eight bids for developing systems to process the recyclable materials generated through the city’s Single Stream recycling program, preferably at a profit for both the city and the company involved.
Two other companies with a stake in the process, Greenstar Recycling and Allied Waste Services, have put messages out in order to get their stories across to Council members and the public. Greenstar ran a full-page ad in Tuesday’s Austin American-Statesman outlining its position and asking the city to continue its contract with them. Allied sent a five-page letter to the Council and key city staffers on Tuesday seeking to have Council reverse their decision to throw out their winning bid.
Balcones, which was part of the bid process, is an Austin-based company that garnered high marks from many on the Council for its recycling plans. TDS, another local company, was banned from the process by the city for allegedly lobbying on the issue. Outside the bid process, TDS offered to handle the city’s recycling at no cost in exchange for an extension on a current contract to handle the city’s solid waste.
In its letter, signed by Austin General Manager Lee Kuhn, Allied said it was appealing to Council members to follow staff recommendations to choose their company’s offer. The company said, in essence, it had won fair and square and hinted that some other companies were less than above board during the process.
“While we would have enjoyed and benefited significantly from the opportunity to comment on this … during this RFP process, we chose to play by the city’s rules and provided no other responses or communications other than our written proposal,” the letter said. “We again state our desire to negotiate with the City of Austin. We were justifiably evaluated as providing the most valuable proposal in the city’s RFP, especially in the cost sections of the proposal.”
Allied also protested the notion that it is not a local company, noting that it has had a presence in the area since the 1970’s and saying that its rivals and others have distorted its environmental record.
Greenstar, whose 2008 contract with the city to handle recycling materials has been criticized for costing money instead of making it, noted in its ad that in recent months, prices in the recycling market have rebounded and Austin is now making money on its contract. The company said it has fulfilled its contract in good faith and even offered to cut fees in a renegotiated contact, a move the city rejected.
Greenstar also criticized other companies in the process, particularly TDS, which it said was trying to lure the city in with a “free” recycling contract in order to lock up the city’s solid waste business for the next 40 years.
A local environmental group, Texas Campaign for the Environment, criticized the Greenstar ad, saying much of it was misleading.
“The ad says that a short-term deal with TDS would require the City to extend the landfill contract for 20 additional years. TDS still has 20 more years left on its 30-year landfill contract with the City,” wrote Robin Schneider, the group’s director, in a news release. “Extending the landfill contract further is an option in one of the long-term options, but is certainly not a requirement of the short-term and long-term TDS offers.”
City Council is expected to discuss the two items, numbers 81 and 86 on the agenda, this Thursday.
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