Whidbey trashes proposed recycling fee

County seeks contract interest

After mixed reactions from Whidbey Island residents at a proposed mandatory curbside recycling fee late last year, county public works staff went to work immediately, scrutinizing other options.

The proposal by the regulated franchised hauler, Waste Connections, would have demanded a certain level of service requiring all subscribers to pay for the recycling program whether they wanted it or not, similar to programs in most incorporated cities. The proposal was nixed.

As the franchised hauler, Waste Connections, which purchased Island Disposal two years ago, went?before the Washington Utilities and Transportation Committee to justify proposed rate increases of up to $4 per household. The figure was generated by the hauler’s review of its operations and the subsequent conclusion it was losing money on the current recycling program.

The company ultimately withdrew the proposal, as the “clear bag” recycling system used in Island County was never formally adopted, a spokesperson said Friday.

Bill Oakes, Island County Public Works director, recently unveiled to the board of county commissioners a new plan that could bring curbside recycling only to those customers interested in the service.

“There is some good news,” Oakes said. A different company, Waste Management, the franchised hauler for Camano Island, recently notified the county that they would soon be offering a twice monthly, voluntary recycling service for about $7.40 per month per household.

“Public Works is looking for a way to provide curbside service to Whidbey Island,” Oakes added.

But that might not be a problem. Oakes said state law allows a county government to contract for “source separated recycled materials from residences.”

“We can contract,” he added. “That right is not given to cities or towns.”

Clark County is the only jurisdiction thus far that has used the clause; and used it to some success.

Eddie Westmoreland, division vice president of Waste Connections, a parent company of Island Disposal, said the company would “possibly” enter the bidding arena after the county goes out with a request for proposals.

“We would have to evaluate the RFP,” he said of the request for proposals.

Contracting out the service will at least place the reins in the county’s hands and remove the kinds of mysteries the county and taxpayers dread. Ensuing competitive prices, which could ultimately include a bid by Waste Connections, could be a huge incentive, as would the flexibility of negotiating costs rather than having them set by the WUTC. Oakes said the county could wield more control and would always know the terms of the contract.

On the negative side, contracting could be a slower process with no guarantees of attracting alternative bidders. The expenditure of additional staff time and money also emerged as a negative.

County Commissioner Phil Bakke recommended shying away from using the term “curbside” in the proposal and instead encourage bidders to tailor their services to rural communities. He also inquired about the possibility of customers interested in seeing their yard debris disappear paying an added fee.

“I’d love to be able to just pay for that,” Bakke said.

Oakes said the county will go out with a request for curbside proposals in August following considerable public outreach. The selection would ideally be made in September and the program implemented in 2009.

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