PORT ANGELES — Curbside recycling and yard waste collection for 9,300 city households and businesses will continue past Thursday.
So will operations at the regional and Blue Mountain waste transfer stations — used by residents throughout Clallam County — while Port Angeles and Waste Connections of Washington Inc. (WCI) officials arbitrate a permanent split, Clallam County Superior Court Judge Brent Basden ruled Friday.
Basden granted a temporary restraining order — without a fixed end-date — sought by the city to prevent WCI from discontinuing waste collection as of Oct. 2 and ordered the binding arbitration sought by Waste Connections so the city and company can devise a termination agreement.
Matt O’Connell, the Rainier Division vice president of Texas-based Waste Connections Inc., said that almost immediately after the Friday morning ruling, company workers began returning about 2,000 yard-waste bins that were collected last week in anticipation of the company’s departure.
“They should be back in time for the following week, when yard waste will be in service,” he said.
Public Works Director Thomas Hunter said Friday after the ruling that the arbitration process would begin this week.
“We look forward to having this process,” he said.
“The community shouldn’t have to suffer because someone doesn’t want to follow the contract and contracted service as it’s precisely spelled out and as the judge ordered this morning.”
O’Connell said he is looking forward to resolving the dispute.
“Clearly we are pleased that the judge ordered both of us to move forward toward arbitration,” he said.
“Our goal through all of this, as we were told in March, was to come to a termination agreement as it’s laid out in the contract. We look forward [this] week to working with the city and working with the arbitrator to accomplish that goal.”
The city is taking advantage of a 15-year opt-out clause in a 20-year contract it signed with WCI in 2005 and will go back to doing what it did before contracting with the company.
Hunter said he expects the city can provide better service at a lower cost to residents.
“Our plan is to take over services as they currently stand,” he said.
“The numbers showed the time was now, and I think that it’s likely had the city chosen to continue with the remaining five years, we probably would have made the same decision based on how the industry has evolved over time.”
Waste Connections also built the 18th Street transfer station, which it operates, and took over operation of the Blue Mountain facility.
WCI employs two drivers, four workers at the regional station and one worker at Blue Mountain.
“We are committed to continuing to employ them,” O’Connell said. “We will find a spot for them and we want them to remain part of the Waste Connections and Olympic Disposal family.”
WCI was paid $6.1 million in 2020 under the contract, a total that increases every year subject to the Consumer Price Index and the Fuel Price Index, Hunter said.
Thee are 6,058 recycling accounts and 3,192 yard-waste accounts.
The Port Angeles City Council voted in March to terminate the agreement effective Friday.
Waste Connections sued the city in July, claiming $4.8 million in unpaid fees, citing breach of contract and a a depressed global recycling market.
The company filed a complaint Sept. 14 to compel the city to engage in binding arbitration, which Basden said both sides had agreed on in July.
WCI also wanted the city to pay $3.2 million in termination costs.
Basden ordered the city to pay an $80,000 bond to cover costs subject to review by him or the mediator, former King County Superior Court Judge Laura Inveen of Hillyer Dispute Resolution in Seattle.
In arguing for the temporary order, Chris Cowgill of the city attorney’s office said the company was insisting the city follow WCI’s terms and was withholding information, such as that dealing with employee and transport operations, necessary for the city to determine what constitutes a satisfactory termination agreement.
“When actual negotiations happened, you probably read from the declaration of Mr. Hunter, negotiations began with ‘we will not discuss anything unless the city is willing to attach a $3 million check,’” he said.
“The issue is, both ways there has been poor communication,” Cowgill said.
“Quite frankly, the Oct. 2 date is not doable, and I can’t imagine it would be doable for either party, because in refusing to meet, and refusing to exchange information, WCI hasn’t received information from the city,” he said.
“Negotiations require an exchange of information and not a demand, and all the city’s been receiving from WCI is a demand,” he said, adding that the city cannot get enough information from WCI to come up with a counter-proposal.
In arguing against the order, Waste Connections lawyer Alexander Wu of Seattle said the city was dragging its feet over preparing for the company’s departure, had not responded for two months to a proposed termination agreement and had avoided setting an arbitration date.
“Waste Connections has been preparing for termination since the city supplied notice in March and set this termination date,” Wu said.
“The reason that we’re here is because the city’s not ready to take over services,” he said.
“That’s why they haven’t agreed to arbitrate before Judge Inveen this week, that’s why they haven’t agreed to arbitrate with Judge Inveen next week.
“And that arbitration in its scope is relatively narrow. It’s an arbitration over what goes in the termination agreement,” he said.
“Waste Connections proposed this termination agreement back in April. The city has not made any counter-proposal to that. They haven’t made any revisions to Waste Connections’ proposal, and they haven’t put forth their own contract.”
Basden said arbitration was provided for in the contract and that the city did not respond to Waste Connections until the company selected one among four choices.
“It seems relatively clear that the problem here is that the city isn’t prepared to take over collection of yard waste and recycling,” Basden said.
“Whose fault that is is not going to be decided by this court at this point.
“I don’t think I need to make that determination because your agreement provided for arbitration.
“It seems to me at this point, since July, when everyone agreed to go to arbitration, that presumably people have been preparing for that arbitration.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].