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Zero Waste Advisory Commission unanimously recommends contract for bridge and underpass cleanup

Friday, July 24, 2020 by Savana Dunning

At its July 17 meeting, the Zero Waste Advisory Commission unanimously recommended approval of a multiterm Public Works contract agreement to clean debris and trash under bridges and overpasses.

The contract is with Relief Enterprise of Texas Inc., a nonprofit that provides disabled and disadvantaged people with job opportunities, for a term of up to three years at $575,000 per year.

Relief Enterprise was contracted for under-bridge cleanup in June for two months. After the Texas Department of Transportation announced it would not renew its contract with WorkQuest to provide Austin with cleanup services in late 2018, the city took over contracting with WorkQuest, which subcontracts Relief Enterprise for cleanup services, for the rest of Fiscal Year 2019 for $195,000, starting in March 2019.

However, after Austin relaxed its homeless camping restrictions, Gov. Greg Abbott deployed TxDOT in November to clean up homeless camps under overpasses and bridges again. Then, in December, Austin’s full contract with WorkQuest began at $350,000 a year.

WorkQuest terminated its contract with the city in May and the city began looking for another company to contract and approve in July.

The original WorkQuest contract is described as a “homeless encampment cleanup services contract” on Austin Finance Online, while the Relief Enterprise contract is described as “under bridge cleanup.”

During the Zero Waste Advisory Commission meeting, Amy Slagle of Austin Resource Recovery said Relief Enterprise would be providing removal of debris and bulk items around public right-of-way locations, such as beneath the bridges of Interstate 35, U.S. Highway 183, Loop 1 and U.S. Highway 290, as well as the medians. The contract says the “primary goal” is to clean the public right-of-way and “not to remove any individuals who may be camping at the underpass locations.”

“They pick up loose items on the ground as well as bagged items,” Slagle said. “Anything that’s been stacked up, they remove those items.”

Commissioner Amanda Masino wanted to know how Relief Enterprises ensures it isn’t removing people’s belongings. Slagle explained that Public Works’ protocol before removing items from an encampment is to post a three-day notice before the cleanup and ask residents if they would like to participate. However, Slagle noted, “If it’s abandoned, they will take it.”

Slagle also added that this is separate from Austin Resource Recovery’s Violet Bag program, which provides purple trash bags and drop-off sites close to homeless camps “with high-volume trash complaints” and encourages homeless people to fill the bags with trash.

Commissioner Kaiba White motioned to approve the contract, which Commissioner Ian Steyaert seconded. The contract received unanimous approval from commissioners Jonathan Barona, Steyaert, Cathy Gattuso, Melissa Rothrock, Masino, White, and Chair Gerard Acuna.

This story has been changed since publication. The city’s Violet Bag Program is run by Austin Resource Recovery, not Public Works, as was originally reported. Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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