Spin Control

Wheelabrator will manage incinerator 3 more years

City leaders tonight agreed for the second time this year to a deal that keeps Spokane’s Waste-to-Energy Plant open another three years.

The Spokane City Council voted 6-1 to approve an operating contract with Wheelabrator, the Waste Management subsidiary that has operated the plant since it opened. The city’s current 20-year deal with Wheelabrator expires in November.

Under the new terms the city will pay the company about $800,000 more a year.

An earlier deal with Wheelabrator fell apart after county officials said it included costs to pay for plant upgrades that aren’t needed within the years that the contract includes. County commissioners hope to leave the city-managed system in three years.

The city of Spokane operates the plant and currently oversees the Spokane Regional Solid Waste System, which includes all of Spokane County. But commissioners have a say on some decisions.

City Attorney Howard Delaney told the council that the new contract with Wheelabrator is small enough to avoid needing commissioners’ approval.

Commissioners, however, will get a say on a proposed tipping fee increase from $98 to $108 a ton – the amount the regional system charges to accept garbage at the plant and transfer stations. Tipping fees haven’t increased for about a decade, largely because proposed rises have been rejected by the county.

The new deal maintains a stipulation that could make it difficult to attract multiple bids when a new contract is considered in three years. The earlier deal had removed a stipulation that required the city to offer Wheelabrator a chance to meet the low bid of a winning bidder. But with county commissioners objecting to the costlier contract, city officials agreed to maintain the bidding rule in exchange for lower prices.

Councilman Bob Apple cast the lone vote in opposition. He argued that it would be cheaper for the city to close the plant and truck long haul its garbage elsewhere.

Administrators have proposed increasing city trash collection rates for next year, in part, to help cover the cost of the proposed tipping fee. Under a plan still not approved by City Council, rates for a 68-gallon bin would increase by $1.42 a month, said Solid Waste Director Scott Windsor. About half that increase would be attributable to the new tipping fee, he said.

“I certainly don't like any increase in tipping fee, but the tipping fees have been artificially frozen for years, and in order to maintain the financial viability of the solid waste enterprise and pay for the management and the cost of operating the facility we've needed to have an annual tipping fee increase each year,” Spokane Mayor Mary Verner said last week. “So it has caught up with us.”

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Jonathan Brunt
Jonathan Brunt is an assistant city editor.

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