MONTESANO — LeMay Enterprises, now owned by Texas-based Waste Connections, will run Grays Harbor County’s garbage transfer station for another 20 years, under a contract approved on a 2-1 vote by the county commissioners Monday afternoon.
Eddie Westmoreland, the western regional vice president for Waste Connections, says now that the contract is in place, the company will be looking into its options to either re-locate the transfer station somewhere else on the Harbor or to re-build the current site at Central Park The company is looking to invest $6.35 million into the facility, based on consultant estimates, Westmoreland said. But the company was not willing to make that investment unless a long-term contract was in place to spread out potential rate hikes to cover the construction costs over a longer period of time.
“We have a lot of improvements we need to make and we’ll have decisions to make pretty soon on what we do,” Westmoreland said.
Garbage is collected and taken to the transfer station on Highway 12 just east of Aberdeen and from there it is transferred to a landfill outside the area.
The decision by the county commissioners was not without controversy — with several residents speaking out against the plan, questioning awarding the contract without a proper bidding process and wondering if the county shouldn’t pause its decision to see if a local outfit might be willing to operate the transfer station, instead.
“What’s the rush?” mused County Commissioner Wes Cormier, before casting his vote against the plan.
Cormier had successfully convinced Commissioner Herb Welch to table the issue a week ago to give more time to review the proposal. The contract had arrived on a Friday and the commissioners had been expected to approve it the following Monday.
Fast forward a week and Cormier said he still had a lot more questions and wanted to figure out the laws regarding trash hauling and the county’s role in it all.
County Commission Chairman Frank Gordon wanted to award the contract last week and pressed his fellow commissioners to decide on it now. Welch ultimately agreed with Gordon to award the contract.
“The bottomline is we need to make an agreement with those that own the garbage,” Welch said.
Upon questioning by the commissioners, Westmoreland said that LeMay’s could choose to abandon the transfer station completely and have its garbage haulers take their trash elsewhere. LeMay’s holds the contract that covers trash pickup for most of the county and its cities except for Hoquiam, which is serviced by locally owned Hometown Sanitation.
“Once you take it, you own it and have the right to take it where you want it,” Dan Syrdal, an attorney for LeMay’s told the commissioners.
Syrdal said that none of its contracts with the cities require it to take its trash to the county’s transfer station.
Patrick Byron, one of the partners of Hometown Sanitation, says that his contract with Hoquiam requires him to take the city’s garbage to the transfer station and questioned the contents of the contracts at other cities.
Byron had urged the commissioners to put the contract out for bid, adding, “It’s a large job and there’s plenty of revenue there.”
Patrick Quigg of Hoquiam told the commissioners that the public would probably be screaming at them if they were to award without a bid process all of the bridge and construction projects to Quigg Brothers Construction for the next 20 years.
Quigg said that if the county held the contract to seven years and tied it in with the city of Aberdeen’s garbage hauling contract, they might be able to attract another garbage company to pay attention to the Harbor.
“There’s an opportunity to have bidders in trash come here,” Quigg said. “Take time to look at this and make sure we understand it. Let’s make damn sure we’ve reviewed all the options and make sure the public is aware.”
“I really don’t know why we have to do this all right now,” Cormier said. “I don’t understand why we can’t put this off for another week, another month and really dig into this.”
Public Services Director Kevin Varness said he’s been in negotiations over the contract for the past year and the county’s getting a good deal.
The 20-year contract keeps the county’s “tipping fee” at $94 per ton — with $80 of that going to LeMay’s and $14 going to the county. The current contract allowed a cost of living adjustment at 65 percent of the consumer price index. The new contract allows for an adjustment of 85 percent of the consumer price index.
That means if the index goes up $1. The previous amount would have allowed for a 65 cent rate hike. The new contract allows an 85 cent rate hike. Every time the “tipping fee” goes up, it trickles down and impacts garbage rates at the customer level.
The contract also calls for a new “fuel surcharge adjustment,” effective Jan. 1, 2015 — where it’s possible that a garbage rate hike could be triggered if gas exceeds $3.75 per gallon.
The contract does acknowledge some unresolved issues at the current transfer station. Following a federal lawsuit claiming violations of the federal Clean Water Act at the transfer station, LeMay’s installed a new stormwater filtration system. As a result, the commissioners allowed the tipping fee to go up to cover those costs back in 2012. LeMay’s has wanted those fees to continue longer than the county has wanted them to continue. The contract calls for those issues to go to arbitration if they can’t be resolved.
Westmoreland said the contract also resolves a $285,851 unpaid tax bill that the state Department of Revenue said the county owed for the garbage services. Westmoreland said the company will take charge of the issue, which will actually prevent a potential rate hike for customers.
The contract requires LeMay’s to seek input and provide designs and plans for a potential new transfer station. However, LeMay’s has set a cap on construction at $6.35 million and the contract notes that “if the county requests modifications to the design or changes to the facility that increase the design or construction costs of the the facility,” then it becomes the county’s responsibility to pay the difference or, if the county chooses, to increase the rates to accommodate for the higher construction costs.
The contract also calls for a change in where the county’s garbage goes. For years, the garbage has been collected at the transfer site and then shipped, typically by rail, to a landfill in Klickitat County in Eastern Washington.
LeMay’s plans to ship the trash by truck now to the Wasco Landfill at The Dalles, Ore. Wasco is owned by Waste Connections, which also owns LeMay’s. Westmoreland said that the company wants more flexibility in delivering the garbage, and the county’s rail lines have also become busier in recent years because of increased activity at the Port of Grays Harbor.
The contract calls for a minimum of 46,000 tons of waste to be handled annually at the transfer station.