Sidney Torres refuse hauler chosen for city’s sewerage contract despite DBE concerns | Local policy

New Orleans officials on Tuesday selected IV Waste, the sanitation company owned by Sidney Torres IV, to resume hauling garbage and recycling in the Lakeview, Gentilly and downstream neighborhoods, a key step in the The city’s months-long effort to replace one of its most high-profile private contractors after garbage services collapsed in the wake of Hurricane Ida.

IV Waste currently provides transportation services for the parishes of Kenner and St. Bernard, as well as commercial customers in New Orleans. Since Ida, he has worked as a subcontractor for some of the routes covered by Metro Service Group, the contractor whose pickup problems before and after Ida created a health crisis for Mayor LaToya Cantrell.

At a selection committee meeting on Tuesday, city officials gave Torres’ firm the highest score out of four bidders, granting it the right to negotiate a deal with the Cantrell administration for a section of the Metro service area.

They did so despite questions about Torres’ proposal to outsource some of the work for disadvantaged businesses to a company owned by his mother, and what they said was a surprisingly low price proposal for the recycling part of the agreement.

While praising IV Waste’s performance on an existing emergency contract in New Orleans, administrative manager Gilbert Montaño, who served on the selection committee, questioned whether IV Waste’s recycling price was realistic because it was well below three competing companies.

“How do I know that (IV Waste) isn’t underbidding for the factor of getting a contract?” said Montano.

Neither the city nor Torres would disclose the prices offered for recycling or garbage hauling.

In an interview, Torres said it was simply his best offer.

“I gave the best price today and it’s going to save the city money,” Torres said.

First of two contracts

Tuesday’s meeting is the first of two selection committee meetings this week to determine the contractors who will take over the hauling of garbage in about half of New Orleans. On Thursday, the committee plans to select a bidder to provide garbage service east of the Industrial Canal, New Orleans East and the Lower Ninth Ward.

The transportation contract for most of the rest of the city, currently held by Richard’s Disposal, is not being tendered. The transportation contract for the French Quarter and parts of the central business district is also not being tendered.

Together, the two major garbage haul contracts are currently worth about $22 million, which the city pays in part with service fees assessed on residents’ Sewerage & Water Board bills.

Although the prices the bidders indicated they would charge the city were not disclosed, based on the discussion of price submissions on Tuesday, the cost of municipal solid waste and recycling in the service area of Metro seems likely to increase. It is unclear whether this cost would be passed on to customers.

Unlike previous solicitations for solid waste, the city’s recent “RFP” does not require selection of the lowest bidder. IV Waste and the company selected as the alternate winning bidder will enter negotiations with the city to finalize pricing and other specifications, including whether pickups will return to twice weekly, as they were before the storm, or remain once a week .

IV Waste already manages 15% of the routes allocated to Metro. The city awarded the job to IV Waste under an emergency no-tender contract following Ida as waste piled up on the streets of Metro’s service area for several weeks.

Costs and other factors

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The Cantrell administration said last fall it would renew Metro’s contract offer, but the process has been repeatedly delayed.

On a Tuesday, the bidders, which in addition to IV Waste included River Birch Renewable Energy, Ramelli Waste and Waste Pro of Los Angeles, were ranked according to a number of different categories, including experience and technical criteria.

The discussion of bids included price and requirements for using disadvantaged firms as subcontractors.

IV Waste offered to meet the city’s 35% ownership goal for disadvantaged businesses by including a contractor owned by Torres’ mother, Alma Torres. City staff said the company did not have the necessary documentation to prove it was qualified for the job.

Two of the three proposals from other bidders also had issues with the city’s diversity goals, said Latoya Martin, compliance manager at the Supplier Diversity Office.

River Birch did not specify the scope of work that its disadvantaged partners would take on. Waste Pro offered to share up to 20% of its work with a disadvantaged business entity, well below the city’s goal of 35%.

Ramelli Waste met the requirements by offering a 35% share to a disadvantaged partner who would have provided staff.

Torres suggested in his offer that his mother’s company, ART Janitorial Services, could help provide sanitation staff. But the company had not been certified as a disadvantaged business using an industry code associated with that work, Martin said.

Ernest Stalberte, a DBE advocate who attended the meeting, told the panel that New Orleans contractors have long tried to exploit loopholes in the program and urged them to enforce the rules.

“This needs to stop,” said Stalberte, a member of advocacy group The Collaborative. “You are the forward-thinking guardians of this.”

Panel members did not discuss ART Janitorial before selecting Torres’ offers. Several declined to be interviewed afterwards. But two New Orleans board members expressed concern that ART Janitorial violated a requirement that disadvantaged partners remain independent from the companies that hire them.

“On the face of it, what you’re suggesting to me is not in the spirit of what we want the program to be,” said Councilman Eugene Green, who sits on the city’s sanitation committee and attended at the selection committee meeting.

Torres replaced his underprivileged business partner with his mother – a former event planner – on a contract to clean up the French Quarter in 2008, while agreeing to loan ART Janitorial a warehouse, a fleet of trucks, fuel and staff, The Times-Picayune reported Monday.

Torres declined to say if he still rents staff or equipment from his mother’s business.

ART Janitorial has since remained a certified DBE since 2008 and has received work on three other municipal contracts not involving her son since then.

The French Market Corp., which oversees the flea market and farmers’ market with a 12-member board appointed by the mayor, has contracted with ART Janitorial for remediation work since 2015.

Alma Torres did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

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Laura J. Boyer