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No-bid recycling contract could get held up

July 6, 2011

Houston Chronicle
Chris Moran

There’s a 20-year no-bid contract on today’s City Council agenda.

That’s legal because it’s an amendment to an existing contract, not a new contract.

But it’s still got Councilman Ed Gonzalez‘s attention. He tagged it last week so that it could not be voted on until today. And today, City Hall sources say, Gonzalez will propose sending it back to the administration to have the recycling contract bid competitively.

“The markets are emerging and the value of the commodity is emerging,” Councilman C.O. Bradford said Tuesday, and that emerging value is increasing. “So why would we lock ourselves into a 20-year deal?”

Environmentalists are also questioning the wisdom of the contract.

“We think it makes common sense that it should be bid because you’re going to get a better deal for Houston taxpayers if you have an open, competitive process,” said Zac Trahan of the Texas Campaign for the Environment.

So why not bid it? A spokesman for the city’s Solid Waste Management Department said that the department talked informally with a couple of companies and found that Waste Management, which currently takes city recyclables, offered the best deal.

“That’s always a question, but based on informal discussions we had with the current single-stream companies (which take all forms of recyclables) in town, what was offered to us through that informal discussion, the benefits weren’t in comparison with each other,” said Gary Readore, chief of staff for Solid Waste.

The deal itself nets the city $2 million more than if it just continued leasing land to Waste Management to run its recycling operation. The gain comes through Waste Management giving the city 15,000 big green recycling carts this year and 1,500 carts a year thereafter.

Readore said that if the contract has to be bid, it will likely take six to 12 months. Only if the carts are part of the deal that results will the city get them. The city cannot afford them now, Readore said. So bidding the contract will delay the expansion of curbside recycling for the time it takes to bid the contract out, he said.

Update: Mayor Parker said the item will be pulled from today’s agenda and re-examined by the administration.


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