The Journal Gazette
Thursday, October 21, 2021 1:00 am


River runs red

Bankruptcy cannot become excuse for city to suffer further garbage-pickup headaches

EDITORIAL BOARD | The Journal Gazette

As if we needed further proof of the ineptitude of the city's trash hauler.

But there it is, practically screaming out from near the middle of the main page of Red River Waste Solutions' website.

The company boasts that it offers trash pickup to communities in five states, and digital renderings of those states adorn a section about service areas including Fort Wayne. Alabama is the first state named.

The image is of Iowa.

That oversight should be no surprise, really. Red River was hired in 2017 as the lowest bidder for trash service, and it's been missing things – on-time garbage pickups for thousands of local customers – since.

But the city appears stuck with the latest problem, and officials should work quickly to try to ensure that residents' trash bins are not left filled as Texas-based Red River reorganizes under a federal bankruptcy filing.

“To me, the trash is on fire,” City Councilwoman Michelle Chambers, D-at large, said during a meeting Tuesday. “We should be alarmed.”

Red River filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last week in federal court in Texas, reporting its debts total more than $31 million. That's after taking $2.3 million in federal Paycheck Protection Program funding last year.

“... I have determined that losses sustained by the debtor as a result of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with a high degree of leverage, caused a significant deterioration of its financial condition and led to this Chapter 11 case,” accountant James Calandra wrote in documents accompanying the bankruptcy petition.

Bankruptcy exists to protect individuals and companies with financial problems and give them a new start. That's what it will do for Red River, if a judge approves plans for the company to rework its operations and continue working in Fort Wayne and other cities and counties in Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee and Texas.

While Chapter 11 would shield Red River from creditors as it works to regain its financial footing, bankruptcy could do little to protect the city's nearly $7 million investment – $4.9 million for trash and $2 million for recycling. Fort Wayne and Red River inked a seven-year agreement for trash hauling four years ago.

Complaints about slow and missed pickups have continued here and in other areas, including Elizabethtown, Kentucky, and Nashville, Tennessee. Nashville officials last year noted “record-setting trash pickup complaints.”

Lawyers for Fort Wayne said this week that other haulers can be sought, but Red River can't be dumped and will be able to direct next steps under reorganization plans. Options include the company continuing to run its trucks in Fort Wayne or working with another hauler for pickups, The Journal Gazette's Devan Filchak reported.

It could be 18 months before reorganization plans are filed. It's not clear what that means for local service in the meantime because Red River officials apparently couldn't be bothered to attend the sometimes-heated meeting, where council members worried openly about whether trash will be picked up.

It's unfortunate that Red River is in the driver's seat, since it is the source of the ongoing problems and recent confusion over the bankruptcy. Perhaps the city could convince Red River to find a hauler that could do better.

We expect officials to consider that and other possibilities to put out this fire.

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