The city of Fort Wayne said Jan. 11 that it continues to experience delays with the collection of garbage and recycling materials by Red River Waste Solutions, but the pandemic is adding to the problems.
"There have been a number of positive COVID-19 cases with Red River drivers and City of Fort Wayne Street Department employees who assist with after-hours collections," according to a statement released by Mayor Tom Henry's spokesman, John Perlich. "This is resulting in slower collections and residents not getting materials collected on their scheduled day. Residents should continue to set out materials on the normal collection day. We’re working diligently to get as many materials collected as soon as possible. Currently, collections are a day and a half to two days behind. We anticipate those delays could last for the next few weeks. We continue to ask for patience from the public.
"Mayor Tom Henry and the City of Fort Wayne Solid Waste Department understand and share the frustrations that residents and neighborhoods have over the collection process. Plans are being worked on to try to get the current challenges corrected in light of the ongoing bankruptcy proceedings involving Red River and the ongoing labor shortage. Efforts are also being made to get Indiana law changed that would enable the City to not have to take the lowest bid on future garbage and recycling contracts."
Fort Wayne City Council is expected to introduce a resolution on the matter at its Jan. 11 meeting. The change in the bidding process would require a change by the Indiana General Assembly.
The city's statement on the current delays included these four points:
• 32% of Red River drivers are out sick
• Public Works and City Utilities staffing levels are down 20% due to illnesses, so the city is having trouble supplementing with other staff to help on routes
• Other waste haulers are experiencing similar challenges with labor shortage and illnesses
• The city continues to help supplement Red River by having city staff make collections. "We currently have two Solid Waste Department trucks running daily. One to two Street Department crews are running routes each night depending on worker availability. One to two Parks Department crews are running their garbage truck on select evenings depending on staff availability."
The city had so many complaints from residents about mixed pickups when Red River took over the 7-year contract at the beginning of 2018 that the mayor formed a task force. That resulted in fines and changes to the pickup routes. Under current law, the city had to accept the lowest bidder for its garbage and recycling contract, which was Red River of Texas for $6.96 million.
A letter dated Dec. 8 from city attorney Carol Helton that was sent to Red River and its insurance company notified them that the city will seek to terminate its contract and that the city expects damages from Red River’s performance failures to exceed the penal sum under the bond of $4.9 million.