Costs over debris management add up, raise questions

Wednesday, September 27, 2017 09:36PM
Ted Oberg examines the rising cost of debris management and where the money is going.


HOUSTON, Texas - Six years ago, federal watchdogs warned that costs not directly associated with debris pickup drove up the price of massive debris projects across the country. It appears that may not have been corrected.

Houston city council members approved a $60 million contract Wednesday to a company managing the city's debris removal process, but what that money actually pays for is under fire.

Inside the council chamber, anger and frustration over much it costs to pay outside debris companies to do something other than pick up your debris.

"We pick up debris for a living," said council member Greg Travis.

Council members are angry at the perceived slow pace of pickup, now questioning administrative costs associated with it.

"You have three companies that we're talking about, DRC, Donnatto and Tetra Tech. None of them own a truck," said council member Dave Martin. "None of them pick up any garbage. They do an administrative function."

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The Donatto Group is a government relations contractor with the city. Calls Wednesday for comment weren't returned.

DRC and Tetra Tech are disaster management and consulting companies. When reached, neither company was willing to speak on the record and referred questions to the city of Houston.

All three companies play a role running the debris project. The truckers are subcontractors to DRC, paid by the load. The city pays DRC per cubic yard. One trucking company tells us it's paid roughly 80 percent of the city's fee. Our research indicates though there are other debris related costs carried by DRC. It's not all administrative overhead costs.
When Houston flooded on Memorial Day 2015, the same companies were under similar contracts. City records show Houston paid DRC $3.2 million dollars to haul debris. It paid Tetra Tech $1.9 million to monitor that pick up process and manage disaster cost recovery to comply with FEMA regulations. That's nearly 60 percent of the debris project cost.

"You can only get reimbursed [by FEMA] if you have the monitoring," said Mayor Sylvester Turner.

A 2011 Inspector General audit warned of escalating monitoring costs, encouraging cities to monitor debris on their own.

"The administrative function should be handled internally instead of outsourcing it to three companies who are making a great deal of money and not picking up a bit of debris," Martin said.

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