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Regional solid waste system

Contracts that created the Spokane Regional Solid Waste System call for the city to retain ownership of the Waste-to-Energy Plant even though county ratepayers helped pay for it.

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Establishing a garbage democracy in Spokane County may prove as difficult as bringing representative government to Afghanistan.

City officials had shown little interest in Spokane County commissioners’ call for transferring control of the Spokane Regional Solid Waste System to a health-district-style coalition. But on Feb. 3, 2011, a group of regional officials including Spokane Mayor Mary Verner tentatively agreed to form such a coalition.

The city would continue to own the Waste-to-Energy Plant and transfer stations in Spokane Valley and Colbert – as guaranteed by current contracts. But the new solid waste system wouldn’t be obligated to use Spokane’s facilities or services.

A host of thorny details are to be worked out by a committee, but the basic framework is a regional board with authority to contract with Spokane or any other service provider.

Contracts that created the Spokane Regional Solid Waste System call for the city to retain ownership of the Waste-to-Energy Plant even though county ratepayers helped pay for it.

Wheelabrator Spokane’s contract to operate the plant expires Nov. 16, 2011. It says Wheelabrator may take over another company’s winning bid – leaving other companies little incentive to bid.

The chance of three-year extension of Wheelabrator Spokane’s contract to operate the Waste-to-Energy Plant is an open question. The proposed extension would remove contract terms that discourage other operators from bidding in the future, but would require $18 million worth of plant improvements.

Under the new regional system, every member government will have a seat on the board of directors. Voting is to be weighted in some fashion, perhaps by the amount of garbage residents contribute.

If Spokane chooses to join the system, as owners of the Waste-to-Energy Plant it could be a service vendor as well as a voting member.

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Sunday Spin: Beat the Clock on teacher bill falls short

OLYMPIA – A vote in the Senate last week brought a result about as rare as a sunny day in the state capital, and much harder to explain.

A bill to require statewide student tests as part of teacher evaluations – a requirement designed to keep the state kosher with federal No Child Left Behind rules and the money that comes with them – went down in defeat on a floor vote of 19 yes and 28 no.

Rare because hardly anything that comes to a vote in the coalition-led Senate fails, let alone so decisively. It’s almost an article of faith that if coalition leaders bring a bill to the floor, they have the votes to pass it on their own regardless of what Democrats do. But not this time. . . 

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New Spokane City Council casts first 4-3 votes

The new majority of the Spokane City Council flexed its muscles twice on Monday in the first 4-3 votes of the year.

Both votes rejected nonbinding efforts to back a state Senate bill designating energy produced at the city’s Waste-to-Energy Plant as renewable.

But council members who cast no votes say they generally support the legislation and were reacting to what they say was a rushed vote with no public notice.

The city has been pushing state officials for years to designate the energy produced at the incinerator as renewable. Energy labeled renewable can garner higher prices, and energy produced at the Waste-to-Energy Plant used to have the renewable classification. The proposal has been in the city’s official lobbying agenda the last few years, including the one that was unanimously approved by the council late last year.

The new 4-3 majority – council members Ben Stuckart, Candace Mumm, Jon Snyder and Amber Waldref – rejected a plea from Councilman Steve Salvatori to rush a vote on a nonbinding resolution supporting the Senate bill. The legislation, introduced by state Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, will get a hearing in Olympia on Thursday.

Because the City Council nonbinding resolution wasn’t introduced until today, it didn’t appear on the council’s agenda and needed five votes to be considered.

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.