Clash over recycling service in Port Angeles

Disagreement between City of Port Angeles, Olympic Disposal

PORT ANGELES — Olympic Disposal and the city of Port Angeles are at odds over recycling service.

Olympic Disposal, a subsidiary of Waste Connections Inc. of The Woodlands, Texas, issued a press release Thursday saying it would begin to pick up recycling bins Monday, with the goal of collecting them all and therefore concluding service, by Oct. 3.

That announcement came as a surprise to city officials, who are now considering legal options to require continued service until a termination agreement is finalized.

“We were not consulted by Waste Connections about this release going out,” Thomas Hunter, city public works director, said in an interview Friday, terming the company’s intent to discontinue service “premature.”

“The citizens of Port Angeles are the city’s top priority and as we have been actively planning for this transition for several months, the statements released are inconsistent with the process that WCI and the City have been and will continue to follow,” Hunter said in a press release.

“Due to WCI’s message, which signals an intent to deviate from its contractual obligations to the city of continuing service until termination details are finalized, the city is currently evaluating its legal options to require WCI to continue to fulfill its service obligations,” the release said.

Matt O’Connell, division vice president for Olympic Disposal, said he does not agree with all that was said in the city’s press release, and that his company has been trying to work with the city on a seamless transfer.

“We don’t necessarily agree with how they laid it out,” O’Connell said. ” We have been trying and we will continue to try to fulfill our obligations within the agreement.”

“We have repeatedly attempted to engage with the City and they have largely remained silent for weeks and months at a time.”

In March, the council voted 7-0 to direct City Manager Nathan West to make purchases, hire staff, sign contracts, and take “all other necessary actions to enable the city to fully assume all operations of the solid waste utility,” effective Oct. 2.

Despite the date, what that vote did was set in motion negotiations for a termination agreement and transition plan that have not yet been finalized, Hunter said.

“The contract states that in order for the contract to be terminated, a termination agreement needs to be negotiated and finalized,” Hunter said. “So long as that negotiation is continuing in any form, the contractor has the obligation to continue service.

“If the city had felt we were getting close …. we would have put out information” about how the transition would occur.

“Quite frankly, we‘re not there yet.”

The announcement “is inconsistent with the contract provisions and with normal contractual processing,” Hunter said.

Hunter said that city officials are concerned about how “individuals must have felt when they read that,” Hunter said.

In the press release, Hunter said that city officials would do everything in their power to ensure a seamless transition.

“At the same time, irresponsible actions by WCI and supply chain issues may cause short-term service glitches, but we are working to minimize those potential issues,” the release said

The city already handles trash collections.

Olympic Disposal said in its press release that customers were asked to set out their bins over the next two weeks for collection and that all questions regarding bin replacement and recycling be directed to the city.

“It is our understanding that the city will be providing customers with new recycling carts, yard waste carts, and commercial cardboard containers, though a timeline has not been shared with Olympic Disposal,” the release said.

The news that the city was terminating the contract came as a blow to Olympic Disposal, when it was announced in March, O’Connell said,

“That was totally within their right per our agreement with them,” O’Connell said. “They had an out, so they made a decision and a choice to end our contract and bring those services in-house, and we respect that.”

O’Connell said in its press release that city officials terminated the contract “with little explanation and no noted issue with the service we have provided.”

“They notified us dated March 16, 2021, that we received on March 18, and in that letter, they said they are terminating all components of the contract effective October 2, 2021. It’s clear in writing,” O’Connell said.

“On April, 21 we sent the first draft of a termination agreement and we didn’t hear back from them again until near the end of June.”

Olympic Disposal sued the City of Port Angeles for $4.8 million in June 2020, claiming unpaid fees and a breach of contract.

The company had been making claims against the city since 2017, claims that city officials said would result in increased rates for customers.

City officials denied the claims in the lawsuit, which was filed while mediation was still in progress; provided additional funds to Foster Garvey PC, the Seattle firm that represented the city in mediation and in litigation; and voted in March to take over the service by Oct. 2, on the 15th anniversary of the contract.

The lawsuit continues separately from the change in services.

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