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County set to approve amendments to Waste-to-Energy Plant contract

Tue., Feb. 8, 2011

County commissioners are ready to bless a plan to make Spokane’s garbage burner more competitive with regional landfills.

The deal, which could be approved today, would allow Spokane to order $15 million worth of plant improvements.

The agreement would be the first tangible result of last week’s two-day Solid Waste Summit.

All the municipal governments in the county agreed to transfer control of the Spokane Regional Solid Waste system from Spokane to a representative board.

Under the new arrangement, Spokane will retain ownership of its Waste-to-Energy Plant, but the regional garbage consortium won’t be required to use it after 2014. The electricity-generating incinerator will have to compete with regional landfills.

Meanwhile, Wheelabrator Spokane’s contract to operate the burner expires in November. A proposed three-year extension would upgrade the plant and eliminate provisions that discourage other companies from competing for future operating contracts.

In addition to fee increases, the extension calls for Wheelabrator to receive $3 million to supervise the improvements.

Until last week’s summit delivered the Solid Waste System reforms county commissioners wanted, they had blocked the contract extension. Spokane owns and operates the plant, but the county controls large expenditures.

On Monday, commissioners informally agreed to allow the extension by amending the Spokane-Spokane County agreement that formed the regional system.

The proposed amendment, negotiated by city and county attorneys, eliminates a disputed contract provision that said the county couldn’t withdraw from the system without city approval when the current agreement expires in April 2014.

Other system members also would be allowed to withdraw when their contracts expire. Currently, their contracts would require them to stay until $18 million in new bonds for the plant improvements are paid off.

The amendment says the county and other member governments won’t be responsible for the bond debt after their contracts expire.

Spokane would be required to spread the bond debt over at least 15 years of level payments to minimize rate increases. The city would be allowed to increase the current $98-a-ton disposal cost by $3 in November.

Inflation-based increases also would be allowed.

While the current agreement says Spokane may keep any cash if the system is dissolved, the amendment would require reserves to be split among all members according to population.

Commissioners added one more condition Monday: that Spokane can’t collect a utility tax on garbage from any other jurisdiction without permission.

Commissioner Mark Richard assured Spokane Valley representatives that he wouldn’t vote for the deal without the utility tax restriction.

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