City council approves troubled $37 million recycling contract

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A drawing shows what a city of Houston recycling center will look like when completed. (KTRK)

A controversial $37 million, 15-year contract for who will pick up Houston's recycling was approved by the Houston City Council Wednesday, months after it was proposed.

Three council members voted against it -- Mike Knox, Brenda Stardig and Mike Kubosh. Council member Mike Laster issued a memo saying he would vote no, but was absent due to a family emergency.

The deal will allow for recycling of glass and plastic bags according to a news release sent immediately after the vote.

The contract has been plagued with accusations about a bad process, complaints by vendors and council members leading to tense moments between elected officials.

The second round of the contract's bidding went to the same company as the first, FCC Environmental, but came in $11 million less than the first bid. Mayor Sylvester Turner said the process has been clean, fair and wound up leading to a better product for Houston.

"The deal before you is $11 million better than the original offer," Turner said. "It is a much better deal for the city of Houston."

One of the opponents of the process, council member Mike Knox, said Wednesday he thinks the whole deal should go back to square one.

"I do have some serious concerns about the process that we used to come to this decision," Knox said.

Knox cited a lawsuit from vendor EcoHub that is asking for city email records related to the process. Those emails are being withheld against city law, EcoHub claims. They are due in court at the end of the month.

EcoHub's plan, called One Bin for All, won a $1 million grant to develop technology with the city under Mayor Annise Parker. It even has a home on the city's government website.

Turner at the beginning of 2017, with little explanation, killed the EcoHub process.

The original contract had its own problems, including a $2.4 million loan from the company for new garbage trucks at 11 percent interest. That would add up to more than half a million dollars in interest.

The city can finance its own loans for under two percent, finance officials said.

The loan option was declined by the city, prompting the change, Mayor Turner's communication director Alan Bernstein said at the time.

Council member Jerry Davis, who supports the contract, said the claims are silly.

"If we went back and looked at everything, we'd be frozen," Davis said. "We'd be like Congress."

Council member Dave Martin, who has also been very vocal against the process, said he'd vote for the contract because it wound up being the best company for the city.

It will take roughly 14 months before FCC Environmental is up and running in Houston.

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