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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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City, county plan waste summit

Event will let jurisdictions discuss joint governance

Spokane County commissioners slogged through garbage issues for three hours Tuesday on their way to a Solid Waste Summit.

They authorized Chairman Al French to join Spokane Mayor Mary Verner in sending invitations to the Feb. 2-3 summit at the CenterPlace Regional Event Center in Spokane Valley.

Each of the county’s 10 cities and towns is asked to send a delegation with the authority to negotiate a new system for governing the Spokane Regional Solid Waste System.

County commissioners have some leverage because their approval is required for any expenditure in excess of $1 million or for any increase in the “tipping fee” the system charges to process garbage.

They tentatively declined Tuesday to give up that advantage by approving $18 million worth of improvements to the Solid Waste System’s electricity-generating trash burner.

City officials want the commissioners to sign off before the governance issue is resolved, but commissioners agreed that would eliminate the city’s “incentive” to make concessions.

“We would appreciate it if they would sign it off before the summit,” Deputy Spokane Public Works Director Gerry Gemmill said in an interview. “We’re running out of time in exploring some options that are in the interest of all the ratepayers.”

The Waste-to-Energy Plant improvements are part of a proposed three-year extension of Wheelabrator Spokane’s contract to operate the plant. The contract expires Nov. 6, and the extension would resolve disputes that could result in litigation.

Much of Tuesday’s commission meeting was devoted to reviewing the list of improvements.Consulting engineer Don Castro, vice president of HDR Engineering, said the improvements “absolutely” are necessary to prevent a “downward spiral” of breakdowns at the Waste-to-Energy Plant.

The contract extension would require the Solid Waste System to pay Wheelabrator a 20 percent, $3 million construction management fee on $15 million worth of upgrades. Castro said management fees usually are 10 to 12 percent, and Wheelabrator’s 20 percent represents a settlement premium.

The agreement also would increase Wheelabrator’s operating fees.

In exchange, Wheelabrator would drop contract provisions that discourage other companies from bidding on future plant-operation contracts.

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