County to decide between two rivals for trash removal contract

EVERETT — In a high-stakes battle to haul Snohomish County’s trash to a faraway landfill, the County Council has some options to ponder.

An expert panel advised sticking with longtime provider Republic Services to take trash east of the Cascades by rail.

That might not be the end of the story, though. The county’s consultant said a rival put in a better bid, but was hamstrung by other factors.

Either way, the county stands to save money over what it’s paying now.

“This has been a long journey,” said county Councilman Terry Ryan, noting that discussions about the contract started years ago.

The council is set to consider its options at 9 a.m. July 26 when it could vote on further negotiations. Roughly $25 million per year is at stake — a half-billion dollars over 20 years. Two trash-industry titans are duking it out for the job.

Republic Services operates a system in place since the early 1990s, previously under the names Rabanco and Allied Waste. County workers take truckloads of compacted trash from transfer stations to an intermodal yard in north Everett. From there, workers load metal containers of about 30 tons each onto trains bound for the Roosevelt Regional Landfill in Klickitat County.

That contract is set to expire in May.

At a Tuesday meeting, council members were advised to keep that system in place. The recommendation came from a seven-person panel consisting of representatives from the county, the Snohomish Health District, the Boeing Co. and local cities. They looked at factors such as price, sustainability and technical expertise. Republic ranked equal or better in each.

“It was great to get a unanimous vote from people throughout the entire county,” said Joe Casalini, director of business development with Republic.

The current system, Casalini said, “works really well and meets a really high standard.” They’re trying to make improvements all the time, he said.

Republic, based in Phoenix, offered the county $49.47 per ton. That’s an improvement over the current rate of $52.14.

Republic’s chief competitor, Waste Management, had trouble matching the price. But the Houston-based company did dangle some potential savings.

“If they want to split the waste, they could save the ratepayers $10 million over 10 years,” said John Chelminiak, who oversees public sector partnerships for Waste Management in the Pacific Northwest.

The proposal would work like this: The county would truck trash from its Southwest Recycling &Transfer Station in Mountlake Terrace to a south Seattle facility where Waste Management would load it onto trains bound for its Columbia Ridge Landfill in central Oregon, not far from Republic’s Roosevelt landfill. That would cost the county $42.98 per ton, or $6.49 per ton cheaper.

Chelminiak said those trips could take place at night to avoid I-5 congestion.

Waste from two other transfer stations, in south Everett and Arlington, would still go to the facility Republic operates in Everett.

That also provides back-up landfills to use in case of disruptions.

“Their own consultant says our proposal is stronger,” Chelminiak said.

There’s a reason Waste Management can’t compete on price alone.

Republic has the contract to operate the county’s intermodal yard — where trucks take the containers to be loaded on trains — for at least another decade. The $650,000 annual lease was in place when the county bought the yard from the Port of Everett five years ago.

“If the county wants this to be a competitive bid process, the lease for the county-owned rail yard would be awarded to the most responsive bidder,” wrote consultant Bob Wallace from WIH Resource Group. “We can’t fault Republic for locking up the yard with a lease through 2028. That was very smart on their part.”

Waste Management offered to build a new rail-loading facility next to the existing one, but construction costs pushed the company’s bid about $4 per ton higher than Republic’s.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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