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Vote on recycling deal still uncertain

Thursday, April 21, 2011 by Michael Kanin

A flurry of action over the past few days appears to have improved the chances that the City Council will decide to contract with both Balcones Recycling and Texas Disposal Systems, the firms they originally said they wanted to participate in Austin’s residential single-stream recycling program. Still, another delay in the City Council vote, which had been scheduled for today, seems likely.


Staff has advocated giving 100 percent of that business to Balcones Recycling, arguing that Balcones is offering a significantly better deal. However, the city has continued to talk with Texas Disposal Systems. Those negotiations finally got past several sticking points this week after former Council Member Betty Dunkerley, a lobbyist for TDS, got involved in the talks. 


Council Member Bill Spelman told In Fact Daily Wednesday that TDS CEO Bob Gregory, is asking for a postponement of Council action on the matter until next week’s meeting. Spelman added that Gregory had a good argument.


“He and his staff have negotiated the terms of a contract with the city but they actually haven’t seen (it),” he said. “If I were a lawyer, I would advise Bob not to sign a contract until I had actually seen the terms of the contract.”


Spelman also said he thinks it would be worth Council’s while to consider the proposal for another week.


Indications Wednesday evening seemed to suggest that, when an agreement is finally reached, it will come with some form of division of services between Texas Disposal and Balcones Recycling, although it is not clear exactly what the split will be.


On Monday evening, the city’s Solid Waste Advisory Commission suggested that Council split the deal in a manner of its choosing. Their recommendation came with an implied caveat that only parties who had agreed to the city’s contract could be considered for that action.


Should that be the case, recycling pick-up could be split at roughly the Colorado River. Everything south of that boundary would be hauled to Texas Disposal’s Creedmoor facility, and everything to the north would be taken to Balcones’ future complex on Johnny Morris Road in east Austin.


There is apparently some support at the Council for a 50-50 division that would move that demarcation line a bit to the north.


City staff have advised Council members that the best financial proposal for Austin is a contract awarding the processing of all of the city’s residential single-stream recycling to Balcones. Any split of the deal would represent something of a hedge: The Balcones proposal performs best in high commodities markets, while the Texas Disposal bid works best in harder times.


Solid Waste Services Director Bob Gedert told Council members in a memo on Wednesday afternoon that staff and Texas Disposal “agreed to all outstanding terms of the Single Stream Master Agreement and Schedules.” He added that they “anticipate a published set of agreements for both (TDS) and Balcones by Thursday morning for Council review.”


Still, Gregory called for a delay. “I want to see my contract,” he told In Fact Daily. “We should see our own contract language – and, you know what, I think (Balcones CEO) Kerry Getter should see our contract language.”


For his part, Getter stayed positive. “We’ve got an opportunity to do something extraordinary here,” he told In Fact Daily. “We want to be a part of that and we’re grateful to have that chance.”

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