AUSTIN (KXAN) — Where will trash from city facilities go after March 1?
City staff said they are working hard to come up with a plan, after city council denied a more than $1 million emergency contract with the current operators of the Austin Community landfill, Waste Management.
“We do not want to continue to send waste to this facility,” Council member Natasha Harper-Madison said, referencing years of complaints from Northeast Austin neighbors about the site.
“People who don’t have the opportunity to live in the ‘highest opportunity’ parts of town are still having to deal with the whole city’s trash,” Harper-Madison said. “I know we have to put our trash somewhere, but we can do it in a way that doesn’t compromise people’s health and wellness and quality of life.”
“My heart and my nose goes out to the people that live anywhere near this landfill.”Natasha Harper-Madison, City Council District 1
Council member Leslie Pool chaired the Waste Management Policy Working Group in 2017 and helped develop recommendations for staff concerning area landfills.
Thursday night, she said it felt like the work done then was “ignored.”
“We are operating under emergency measures, but we don’t need to,” she said. “Our adopted policies do not support continuing to use this particular landfill. I’m concerned that staff did not prepare to act on those policies. I’m not gonna be able to support this contract or the actions that got us here.”
She said ultimately, she’d like to see the landfill close.
“It’s a dry well for me to understand why the staff has continued to bring this contract to us,” Pool said.
With such a short deadline to find an alternative for trash from city buildings, though, Mayor Steve Adler expressed concerns.
“So, what happens on March 1 with all the garbage? Does it just pile up? Are we taking the vote today to start accumulating piles of garbage?”
Jeffrey Jacoby with the Texas Campaign for the Environment said that wouldn’t be the case.
“That’s simply not true. Last night at ZWAC [Zero Waste Advisory Commission], it was confirmed that if this contract isn’t executed, then there will be no disruption in services to the city,” Jacoby said, referencing comments made by the Assistant Director and Director of Austin Resource Recovery.
“My responsibility is to make sure that across the city, regardless of what happens, that I find a way to deliver the services that we need. There could be nothing worse than to have a break in service related to garbage,” Ken Snipes, Director of Austin Resource Recovery, told the council.
Pool agreed, she did not envision a break in service or garbage from city buildings “piling up.” She said their directive was clear, and it is up to Austin Resource Recovery, the city manager and city staff to find a solution–soon.
“The responsibility rests with the city manager,” she told KXAN on Friday. “I have full confidence he is up to the task.”
Mayor Adler echoed that sentiment in a statement to KXAN: “We are confident city staff will quickly find a solution. If they need additional Council approval before the next scheduled Council meeting, we will hold a special called meeting for that.”
KXAN reached out for a comment from the city manager’s office and were told: “The City has been working to provide comprehensive cost-efficient waste disposal and recycling services to all City of Austin departments. It took longer than expected to identify and adequately plan for the different trash, recycling and composting needs of all City facilities. We’re now working hard to proceed with a new solicitation for these services on a long-term basis.”
How are neighbors being affected?
“There are days when I can’t even open the windows in my house,” Valerie Valtzar told KXAN about the smells in her neighborhood.
She lives near the landfill and has been waiting for it to close for years.
She and other neighbors were expecting it to close in about five to seven years when it is projected to reach capacity, but then they were notified that Waste Management had applied to build a transfer station at the site.
In a statement, Waste Management cited Austin’s growing population as the reason for the application, saying in part, “The need to take out the trash is going to continue, and this transfer station will provide a viable solution for continued waste disposal.“
“I feel like we always have to watch what Waste Management is going to do next to try to expand this landfill or to further decimate our neighborhood with this proposed transfer station,” Valtzar said.
She said the possibility of a contract between the company and the city felt like a “sour cherry on top of the situation.”
“We had to basically go and tell the city, ‘Hey, don’t give a million dollars to this company that’s messing up our neighborhood.’ It’s obscene to reward their bad behavior,” she said.
So, she and several neighbors came out to express their frustration with the landfill and its operators to council Thursday night.
“I’m sure y’all can find a creative solution.”
To watch the full council proceedings, reference Item 37 here.