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Fort Wayne sees movement on the solid waste front

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Fort Wayne cleared another procedural hurdle in its effort to change state code allowing municipalities more control when selecting solid waste contracts Thursday morning.

House Bill 1286 ensures local governments could use requests for proposal when selecting these contracts instead of being bound to choosing the lowest responsible and responsive bidder, which is how Fort Wayne ended up with Red River.

The measure passed the House in January, and cleared the Senate Committee on Local Government unanimously on Thursday on a 9-0 vote.

It’s an effort that’s been promoted by Mayor Tom Henry over the last several months, following the announcement of Red River filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last fall. In his State of the City address Wednesday, Henry also noted progress was being made in those proceedings that would allow Fort Wayne to hire a new contractor in the summer.

But earlier this week, city attorneys noted that Red River will likely continue to serve as the city’s garbage collection service until June 30, and that it was unlikely they would be able to accelerate the timeline by finding a new provider by then.

The bidding process for an eight-year contract is slated to begin on March 1.

Red River says it would take around $2 million to ensure service through that June 30 timeline; the city would only be on the hook for about $300,000 with Argos, which owns the company’s 2021 performance bond, covering the rest.

This drew the ire of some Council members who wanted to see a more thorough, concrete contingency plan offered up. But city attorney Tim Haffner says their options are limited.

“Bad service is, we think, better than no service. We can only assist them to be as good as they’re going to be. Service has been lousy," Haffner said. "It's been inadequate. It’s been unacceptable. It’s nothing any of us would want. But unfortunately, our choice is to try to prop them up and keep them alive long enough to get to a qualified, responsible, capable provider, or to call it quits.”

The administration did announce a reset of the schedule two weeks ago, with the hopes of getting garbage and recycling collection back on track after snow storms set service back days and, for some constituents, more than a week.

Zach joined 89.1 WBOI as a reporter and local host for All Things Considered, and hosted Morning Edition for the past few years. In 2022, he was promoted to Content Director.