The Austin Chronicle

Solid Waste Land

Landfill Full

By Robert Bryce, March 5, 1999, News

Controversy has dogged the city's garbage disposal contract, too. Last year, the city staff recommended sending nearly 90% of the city's trash to the WMI landfill on Giles Road. But concerns about a two-decades-old hazardous waste disposal site at the landfill forced the city to rethink its plan. And in early February, Carter & Burgess Inc., an engineering firm hired by the city to examine the three private landfills in the region, determined that the hazardous waste at the WMI site "poses a substantial environmental risk and potential future liability to the owners and users of the site." The report effectively put WMI out of the running for the city contract. Ric Green, a district manager for WMI, said "Obviously we are disappointed. But at the same time, we have to respect the city's decision."

The Carter & Burgess report meant that only the TDS landfill fit the requirements laid out by the city in its original request for proposal. The city -- which generates about 125,000 tons of trash per year -- required that all bidders have at least 30 years' worth of capacity remaining in their landfill. That disqualified the BFI landfill, which has less than 10 years' worth of space remaining. But after the Carter & Burgess report was released, city staff hurriedly allowed BFI to get back into the bidding process. That led to howls of indignation from TDS, which has insisted all along that it owns the only landfill that fits the city's requirements.


BFI's neighbors in Chimney Hills North, Walnut Place, and Harris Branch weren't pleased with the city's decision to allow the landfill back into the bidding, either. "The anchor tenant for smart growth in this part of Austin is going to be a landfill," an indignant Joyce Best told a bleary-eyed City Council on Thursday night. Best, who chairs the Harris Branch Neighborhood Association, said the city's plan to send solid waste to the BFI landfill was "yet another attempt to squelch the objections of the neighborhoods."

Councilmember Willie Lewis was also peeved. "I've said all along that this garbage deal has stunk," said Lewis, who contended that city staffers have planned all along to send the city's garbage to one of the two landfills on Giles Road, owned and operated by WMI and BFI. Despite Lewis' objections, the council voted 5-2 (with Lewis and Jackie Goodman opposing) to approve a resolution by Councilmember Gus Garcia that divides the city's trash between TDS and BFI. The council instructed the city staff to report back in 18 months on reapportioning the contract and on the potential advantages of building a transfer station in North Austin.

As the council chamber cleared, Rife of BFI said, "We're very pleased." TDS' Gregory, on the other hand, was livid. He called the council decision a "bogus solution" and added that he was thinking of dropping out of the bidding process altogether. "All we've got from the city is a promise for 33% of their trash for 18 months."

Gregory may be complaining too much. On the other hand, given the city's recent history of dealing with its solid waste, delays just come with the territory.

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