Sullivan asks Reardon to move on garbage contract

EVERETT — The Snohomish County Council has grown increasingly frustrated with County Executive Aaron Reardon’s office over negotiating a long-term garbage contract.

Just over a year remains before the county’s current contract with Allied Waste expires. Some county leaders worry that’s too little time to strike a deal with Allied, or another company.

Over 20 years, the contract could be worth a half-billion dollars.

Council Chairman Brian Sullivan and his colleagues want to extend Allied’s contract by at least two years. They want the time so they can evaluate any competing offers.

This week, Sullivan sent a letter asking Reardon’s office to have a draft extension ready to review by June 1. If that doesn’t happen, the council “will explore legislative options to ensure that the county is able to maintain a viable solid waste disposal system.”

In other words, that means the council says it is ready to find a way around Reardon’s office.

“I have strong concerns that progress isn’t being made on an extension,” Sullivan said. “With 13 months to go, there’s a sense of brinksmanship that is unacceptable and should be unacceptable to the ratepayer.”

Snohomish County’s current garbage system sends about 400,000 tons of trash per year by rail to an Eastern Washington landfill. 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 for the trip to the landfill in Roosevelt near the Columbia River.

The current contract has been in place for two decades and expires in May 2013. It costs the county $20 million per year. A new contract would likely run for another 20 years.

Waste Management and possibly other major solid-waste companies are likely to make a play for the lucrative job. Waste Management, like Allied, operates a large landfill near the Columbia River, but on the Oregon side.

Deciding who gets the future work would require a request for proposals.

Peter Camp, the Reardon office executive director who has been overseeing the county’s bargaining with Allied over the extension, said he’s held regular meetings with the County Council. Camp said he saw nothing confrontational about the council’s recent letter and is prepared to have a contract ready by June 1.

“I’m delighted to work with them, and I’ll be happy to work with them as I have for the past several months,” Camp said.

The executive’s office is responsible for working out the contract details, but it’s up to the County Council to approve it.

“My job is to negotiate the best deal I can for the citizens and to present that deal to the council,” Camp said.

Councilman John Koster said he was surprised last year when the executive’s office proposed consideration of other vendors for the long-haul garbage contract. Koster said he’s not against the idea, but like others on the council, he wants to have enough time to study different options.

“I don’t think anybody really understand where the executive is going with this,” Koster said. “They haven’t said anything other than they want to do an RFP (request for proposals), and that gets really complicated in a hurry.”

One concern raised by council members is that a poorly managed transition could leave trash piling up at curb sides with nowhere to go. Another is keeping tipping fees stable at county transfer stations. Those fees can affect rates for residential trash pickup.

Also, a change in contract might involve moving 60 truckloads of garbage per day toward Seattle on I-5.

So far, Koster said Allied Waste has a positive record with the county.

“We’ve had a really good relationship with Allied, and Allied has done a really good job at keeping the cost down,” he said.

Separately, the county continues to negotiate the purchase of a north Everett rail yard that Allied Waste uses to load the county’s garbage onto trains for the trip to the landfill. The price under discussion for the nearly 16-acre property is less than $10 million.

Allied Waste leases the property from its current owner, the Port of Everett. Allied’s contract would carry over with any change in ownership. The contract is set to expire in 2018, but Allied can renew it for another 10 years.

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

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