News briefs from Austin, the region, and beyond
Boulevard of Bicycle Dreams
The Downtown Bicycle Boulevard isn't a done deal quite yet. Although it received support from all the boards and commissions that looked at it, it still needs approval from City Council, which will take its first public look-see at next Thursday's meeting, 10:30am. Don't go down to council chambers prepared to vent one way or another – it's just a staff briefing, not a public hearing. – Lee Nichols
The comedy of errors that has been the search for a materials recovery facility – a sorting center for the city's recycling stream – gained another chapter last week, as City Council voted to toss out the proposals process that netted three frontrunners and begin anew. Further complicating the convoluted MRF process was narrow posting language that allowed for execution of a contract with only the staff-selected frontrunner, Allied Waste, which sent council off the dais for a special-called executive session to learn what their legal options were. When they returned, Randi Shade moved to scrap the proposals and restart the bidding, a course of action also recommended by the Solid Waste Advisory Commission. Given that the city's current recycling contract with Greenstar North America expires in September, council had questions about how soon it could get new responses. Solid Waste Services Director Bob Gedert said council could request proposals for a short-term contract this month, then execute a contract in July, but rebidding the MRF would require at least six months. "Is there a reason ... for believing that a different RFP process would bring a different proposal?" asked Bill Spelman; Gedert replied, "I don't perceive much of an outcome difference." However, a reboot could bring Texas Disposal Systems into the bidding. TDS had previously been deemed ineligible for violating lobbying rules, due to the enthusiastic outreach of TDS exec Bob Gregory, but its generous offer obviously caught council attention. Ultimately, council voted 5-2 to reject all MRF applicants and reboot the process, with Spelman and Sheryl Cole voting no. The hubbub shows no signs of abating. Council's Sept. 24 draft agenda contains two MRF resolutions: one from Cole and Spelman calling for a contract with finalist Balcones Resources and another from Laura Morrison calling for negotiations with both TDS and Balcones Resources "for a short-term and long-term contract for a Material Recovery Facility." – W.D.
City utility Austin Water announced this week the launch of a new green computing system that should save a significant amount of energy. New servers will use up to 90% less electricity than the old IT system, according to Austin Water's IT department. AW shifted from 40 physical servers to four Dell virtualization rack servers. The new system also will provide better access to data in an emergency or natural disaster and improves reliability and productivity. "The green aspect of it is a big deal for us," said Brownlee Bowmer, chief information officer for the utility. The new system will save Austin Water nearly $400,000 on electricity and other operational costs over the next five years – which equals about half the initial cost. In other Austin Water news, the utility begins interviews for a water conservation division manager next week. Look for the new manager, who will be charged with strengthening AW's conservation efforts, to be announced in late July. (Incidentally, as observant readers might have noticed, the utility has made another move toward conservation in recent months, quietly dropping the word "utility" from its moniker. Goodbye, Austin Water Utility – hello, Austin Water.) – Katherine Gregor