The Journal Gazette
 
 
Friday, January 21, 2022 1:00 am

On trash, 'better days are ahead'

Tom Henry

When faced with challenges, local government, residents, neighborhoods and businesses come together to meet the obstacles with collective leadership and a path forward to ensure Fort Wayne continues to be a recognized leader as a great place to live, work and play.

Friends, there's no question that garbage and recycling collection services have not met the standards of our city. I take responsibility for that.

We know that meeting the basic needs of the community matters. We owe it to you to provide the very best customer service possible.

When Red River was selected in 2017 through a competitive bidding process to be the solid waste hauler for Fort Wayne, everyone entered into the arrangement with high expectations and optimism.

State law was followed to select the lowest/most responsive and responsible bidder, which Red River was at the time. The due diligence and contract review that was done by several groups, including my administration, the city's public works division, and a committee of city staff, neighborhood leaders and two city councilmen, didn't find any red flags with Red River.

In addition, the contract was unanimously approved by City Council.

At the time, Nashville, Tennessee, was Red River's biggest city contract and at the time of our study had not experienced the problems they are having now. Officials there gave us a positive report on the contractor.

Since their services commenced in 2018, we've had many ups and downs with inconsistent delivery of services and, of late, a serious problem with getting materials collected in a timely and efficient manner.

COVID-19 and a nationwide labor shortage haven't helped, but I'm not going to make excuses for the shortcomings of the contractor. To complicate matters, Red River filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy late last year, which placed the city in a difficult position as well.

Since that time, our legal team and solid waste department have been working tirelessly to make sure materials continue to get picked up by Red River. We've tried for months to intervene and get assistance from other private haulers.

Hiring an emergency provider is easier said than done. Other local/regional/national haulers are experiencing illnesses and labor issues as well and aren't in position to send the number of drivers and trucks needed to be the lead provider in an emergency situation.

That's why the city will continue to supplement Red River by having city staff make collections through this coming transition period. We're also in daily communication with local Red River drivers to help ensure they stay on the job and know they are valued and will have an opportunity to stay on with a future provider.

Efforts are also being made to get Indiana law changed to enable the city not to have to take the lowest bid on future garbage and recycling contracts. House Bill 1286 received a favorable hearing in the House Local Government Committee this week and moves to the full House.

Now, it's time to look forward.

We're close to an agreement through the bankruptcy court to have Red River continue services for the next four to six months while we develop the bid specifications to hire a new contractor and have them on board this summer.

Please let me reemphasize we understand and share the frustrations you have. Thank you for your continued patience and understanding.

We will make this right. Better days are ahead.


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