County close to $20M-a-year deal with trash hauler

EVERETT — Wrangling over the future of Snohomish County’s $20-million-a-year trash contract could be nearing an end — at least for the short term.

The County Council next week is scheduled to discuss, and likely vote on, extending for up to five years the county’s long-haul garbage contract with Allied Waste.

The work involves shipping by rail to a landfill in Eastern Washington the 400,000 tons of trash the county generates each year.

“It’s been an arduous process, and I’m happy it’s over,” Council Chairman Brian Sullivan said last week.

Said Councilwoman Stephanie Wright: “It’s just a matter of time” before the council votes to pass the new contract.

“I see no reason why we won’t have it finished,” Wright said.

A public hearing is set for 10:30 a.m. Sept. 26 at council chambers on the eighth floor of the county’s Robert J. Drewel Building.

Questions about the extension touched off political squabbling during the past year as county leaders prepared for the bigger task of opening the high-dollar trash contract to competing bids. The long-term work has attracted keen interest from Allied’s chief competitor, Waste Management. The contract could total a half-billion dollars over 20 years.

The County Council has favored a longer timetable and County Executive Aaron Reardon’s office a shorter one. Both sides agreed the county needed more time to prepare to put the contract out to bid.

The current contract with Allied Waste has been in place for more than 20 years. Without an extension, it’s set to expire in May 2013. The proposal the council is considering calls for adding another four years, with an optional extra year.

Reardon had been urging a contract extension of no more than two years. At one particularly heated juncture, the executive’s office called the council’s support of a longer agreement “fiscally irresponsible” and “legally questionable.”

Members of the council worried that Reardon’s proposed timeline failed to account for public involvement or adequate study, and could have caused trouble down the road.

Reardon’s office also insisted on an opt-out clause that would have allowed the county to terminate the contract early. After initial resistance from some council members, the council in June approved a proposed agreement with the early-termination language.

Allied balked at that clause, and the document underwent revisions over the summer.

The version Allied signed earlier this month gets rid of the early-termination language.

“This is a positive step forward for the county and for Allied Waste,” Allied spokesman Randy Bolerjack said.

The company considered the opt-out wording contradictory because the contract already listed specific reasons the county can give for existing early, Bolerjack said.

One reasons is selecting a new vendor.

The county also must give six months notice if it opts to terminate the contract early.

The proposed contract also offers Snohomish County $500,000 per year in savings, Bolerjack said.

In a separate development, the county in August agreed to pay the Port of Everett $7.8 million to buy the rail yard that Allied Waste uses to load the county’s garbage onto trains for shipment to a landfill in Klickitat County. The trash company will continue to lease the facility.

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

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