Trash-hauling deal raises ire of County Council

EVERETT — The Snohomish County Council took a decisive step Monday toward extending a contract that sends 400,000 tons of trash each year to Eastern Washington for burial, a process that has often been public and contentious.

Council members told Executive Aaron Reardon’s office to work on keeping the 20-year-old contract for another four years. The council’s proposal includes an optional extra year, if needed. Reardon’s staff had recommended a two-year extension.

The county’s $20-million-per year arrangement with Allied Waste is set to expire in May 2013. All five County Council members have said they want to open up that work to competition from other companies, which would likely include Allied as well as industry giant Waste Management.

Council members have criticized Reardon’s office, however, for failing to adequately prepare, and for rushing things at the last minute.

“Somewhere along the line, somebody who was responsible for paying attention to this dropped the ball,” Councilman Dave Somers said after a meeting Monday. “It should’ve started two to three years ago to have this done before we decided on an RFP (request for proposals).”

A new contract would likely run for another 20 years and be worth about a half-billion dollars.

Sorting out the long-haul trash contract was one of the key issues the council cited earlier this year when they asked Reardon to go on administrative leave, to minimize distractions while the Washington State Patrol investigates the executive for alleged misuse of county resources.

The state probe of Reardon has been ongoing since October, when a county social worker and longtime friend of Reardon’s reported she trysted with him during out-of-state county business trips during which he did little work.

Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks has said he needs to review thousands of pages of documents he’s received from the detectives before making a decision about criminal charges.

The disposal contract hasn’t been the only sore point over trash. The County Council and the executive’s office also disagree over how to draw up the county’s long-term comprehensive plan for disposing of solid waste.

That plan must include landfills, recycling, transfer stations and agreements with cities.

Council members have demanded to know why Reardon’s office, without consulting them, has already sent off drafts of the plan to be reviewed by the State Department of Ecology.

Under the county charter, the council is responsible for policy matters such as the comprehensive plan for garbage disposal.

The Reardon executive director who oversees solid waste issues, Peter Camp, said the county can field offers for running the waste system independently of developing the comprehensive plan.

Council Chairman Brian Sullivan disagreed, saying, “You can’t do one without the other.”

“I understand the argument and what your boss says, but we’re just not feeling the love” for the executive office’s rationale, Sullivan told Camp during Monday’s meeting.

Camp did promise to meet with Allied about the proposed four-year extension, “as quickly as I can.”

Earlier this year, the council had requested that Reardon’s office prepare by June 1 a draft extension agreement for the long-haul contract.

Allied has offered the county discounted rates for an extension of five years or longer, contending that would help ensure stable trash rates.

Representatives for Waste Management have argued that Snohomish County taxpayers deserve to see what the marketplace can offer — and what has changed in the waste-disposal business over the past 20 years. Competition could benefit taxpayers through better rates as well as new ways to recycle materials that otherwise would wind up in landfills, spokeswoman Robin Freedman said.

“We believe we can offer something that no other company can offer, and we just want the opportunity to bid on this contract,” Freedman said. “If I lived in that community, I’d want my elected officials to get the best deal possible.”

Two years, she said, should be more than enough time for the county to prepare to weigh proposals.

The county’s garbage system sends trash by train to a landfill in Roosevelt, in Klickitat County. County workers compress trash into bales at the county’s transfer stations, then truck the material to a north Everett rail yard. There, Allied Waste employees load the material onto trains.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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