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Thursday, February 20, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns
Waste management emergency contract heads to Council with split recommendations
Austin’s dumpster wars continue. The city’s contract with Waste Management of Texas expires Feb. 28. To avoid a public health crisis, City Council will vote tonight on whether to execute an emergency multi-term contract with the waste collector for up to one year and an amount not to exceed $1.06 million.
Not all commissions are in support of this extension. The Electric Utility Commission voted unanimously to recommend against approving the contract at its Feb. 10 meeting. “This is blindsiding,” said Commissioner Dave Tuttle. “Why should we vote on this right now when they don’t even have the ability to tell us what’s going on?”
Austin Energy staffers were unable to provide commissioners with information about the contents of the contract extension. Chief Operations Officer Charles Dickerson said, “I don’t even think Austin Energy is part of the negotiations.”
The same contract arrived at the Water and Wastewater Commission on Feb. 12 where city staff members were similarly sparing in the information they were able to provide. Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros told commissioners that the water utility is only concerned with $28,000 of the contract and that it is a six-month agreement with an option for a six-month extension. The commission unanimously gave its recommendation for approval.
Community members turned up to both commission meetings to voice their concerns about the contract. Jeffrey Jacoby, the deputy director for Texas Campaign for the Environment, told members of the EUC that “we recommend holding it over with the existing parameters.”
Jacoby said the scope of Waste Management’s duties is expanding in the proposed emergency extension. He based this on the Request for Information that the city sent out on Aug. 9 last year for refuse removal at city facilities. In the request, the city calls for “the Contractor (to) properly dispose of all Industrial Class 2 and special non-hazardous waste streams generated by the City.” These special wastes include utility poles.
Adam Gregory with Texas Disposal Systems told the EUC that the company has been collecting and recycling telephone poles for Austin Energy since 2015. He said it “seems silly” that an emergency extension of a contract will reroute the poles to a landfill.
A spokesperson for Austin Energy told the Austin Monitor via email, “Austin Energy will utilize the contract discussed at the Electric Utility Commission Monday only for facility refuse and recycling. Our utility poles are disposed of under a different contract and poles currently go to Texas Disposal Systems.”
Electric Utility commissioners acknowledged that the refuse from the utility needed to go somewhere, but they stated concerns with expanding the role of Waste Management at a time when the garbage collector is facing growing opposition from the community and public officials for its proposed transfer station at the Austin Community Landfill.
“I really do have concerns that the community has had such a long-running battle with the pollution at this site,” said Commissioner Karen Hadden.
The other half of the city utility, however, did not intermingle the emergency contract extension with Waste Management’s request to build a transfer station. “We really are not dealing with the transfer station in any way,” said Commissioner William Moriarty from the Water and Wastewater Commission.
Update: The Zero Waste Advisory Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to reject the emergency contract with Waste Management. With one recommendation for and two recommendations against the extension of the contract, it will go before Council tonight for a final vote.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin Energy: As a municipally-owned electric utility, Austin Energy is a rarity in the largely deregulated State of Texas. It's annual budget clocks in at over $1 billion. The utility's annual direct transfer of a Council-determined percentage of its revenues offers the city a notable revenue stream.
City of Austin Zero Waste Advisory Commission: An Austin City Council advisory commission. Its members are charged to "[r]eview and analyze the policies and resources relating to solid waste management in the city and advise council on solid waste management policies and resources." Formerly the Solid Waste Advisory Commission.
Electric Utility Commission: The advisory body charged with oversight of Austin Energy, the City of Austin's municipally-owned electric utility.
Water and Wastewater Commission: The Water and Wastewater Commission reviews and analyzes city policies regarding all things water and helps the city of Austin ensure adequate and potable supplies of water for its residents.