Port Angeles to take over city waste collection

Contract with collection service to be terminated

PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles City Council has voted to terminate a longstanding agreement with Waste Connections, Inc. for garbage removal and other solid waste services this October.

The council voted 7-0 Tuesday 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.

“This is a unique opportunity and a lot of work that is being put on to a truly amazing team,” said Thomas Hunter, Port Angeles public works and utilities director, in a Thursday interview.

“I have full confidence in the ability for public works to take this challenge on, and to do it in a manner that increases fiscal resilience in a way that will ultimately lower rates for our citizens.”

The city entered into a 20-year contact with Waste Connections in 2005 to construct and operate the Regional Transfer Station in west Port Angeles.

Waste Connections agreed to provide such services as transportation and disposal of solid waste, recycling, handling of moderate-risk waste and the operation of the Blue Mountain Transfer Station, city officials have said.

“It is important to understand that taking over service components relative to an existing contract is not to be taken lightly,” Hunter told the council Tuesday.

“There’s a lot that goes with that.”

Waste Connections sued the city in July, claiming $4.8 million in unpaid fees, citing breach of contract and a collapse in the global recycling market.

City officials denied the claims and hired a law firm last December to represent the city in litigation with the Texas-based company.

“We’re handling that (litigation) separate from this,” Hunter said when reached by cell phone Thursday.

“The reality is we have a contract that gave us an off-ramp at the 15-year anniversary, and that just happened to be this year.

“We evaluated the level of service that we’re getting against the cost of us taking over those operations,” he added.

“It just made way more fiscal sense for the city to take over those operations.”

Hunter said the city would hire the equivalent of 12 full-time employees to assume operations of the solid waste utility.

“We’re confident that there will be no rate increase within the solid waste utility based off of our analysis,” Hunter said.

Hunter told the City Council that the move would provide more cost control and reduce solid waste rates over time.

“Continuing any contractual relationship that precludes the city from maximizing the use of its resources does not allow for the city to manage rates in a manner that will protect ratepayers, that will protect the region and the affected infrastructure in the most efficient manner,” Hunter said.

The City Council had discussed the termination of the Waste Connections contract in closed executive sessions and approved the action in an open meeting Tuesday.

“I would just say that I believe that public utilities should remain public,” Council member Mike French said in the meeting.

“I think that, from a ideological position, this move is a good move.

“From a practical position, I think terminating this contract and operating the Transfer Station in-house is in the best interest of our ratepayers,” French added.

“I think that we will be able to operate this efficiently and protect our ratepayers from rate increases by having control of the solid waste utility.”

Hunter said the city would negotiate a termination plan with Waste Connections and ensure a continuity of service during the transition.

“I’m sure the public will be wanting to see some type of offset numbers,” Council member Charlie McCaughan said.

“I would hope that would be sharing that information with the public when we come up with it.”

Council member LaTrisha Suggs said the termination of the contract was akin to “taking out the middle man” and would result in lower utility rates for city customers.

“I am eager to find out where, during this process, we can have better flexibility and provide more opportunities that we can do better at recycling efforts and reducing our impact to the environment, also,” Suggs said.

“I’m excited about those opportunities in the future.”


Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at rollikainen@peninsuladailynews.com.

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