By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
Unhappy that a sweeping ten-year, $1.5 billion trash deal was negotiated without competitive bidding, Broward commissioners on Tuesday refused to approve the pact until they can justify how much residents and businesses will be charged.
The 5-4 vote also asked county staff to get Waste Management to pony up more money in the deal for the county.
“They have to give us some cover on why this is a better deal and why we should not go out for bid,” said Vice Mayor John Rodstrom.
The vote was a significant blow to Waste Management’s hopes of securing early approval of a lucrative new inter-local agreement (ILA) that envisions handling trash for 26 Broward cities for 10 years, with an option for 10 more years after that. It also revealed a lack of support for a proposal to restructure Broward’s Solid Waste Disposal District as an independent district with the power to issue bonds and levy a special assessment.
Wheelabrator, the Waste Management subsidiary that operates the county’s two waste-to-energy plants, has offered “signing bonuses” worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to cash-starved cities that sign off on the deal by Dec. 31. The current ILA expires in 2013. Five cities, including Pembroke Pines and Hallandale Beach, do not participate.
Through last week, 13 cities had approved the new agreement. But municipal jitters about the no-bid deal have caused several cities to consider bolting the district, a regional coalition formed in 1986 to deal with Broward’s trash disposal problem.
Miramar voted last week to pass up its $725,000 bonus and seek competitive bids from other trash haulers that might save it a lot more. Commissioners in Oakland Park, told by staff that they can save more than $500,000 by going out to bid, have indicated they may do the same. Lauderhill wants further study.
To be approved, the ILA must represent at least 51 percent of the population of all the cities in the current agreement and at least 80 percent of the waste delivered to the waste-to-energy plants in 2009.
But in another problematic development, it was announced at the meeting that the county’s biggest waste producer – Fort Lauderdale – decided Tuesday night to defer its vote on whether to approve the deal until Dec. 21.
The county vote may embolden other municipal opponents of the Wheelabrator deal. But it could have been worse for Wheelabrator.
At one point, commissioners voted to scrap the negotiated agreement with Wheelabrator altogether. They pulled back at the urging of Ron Greenstein, executive director of the county’s Resource Recovery Board.
A majority of the commission was clearly focused on finding a better deal for Broward residents. But Commissioner Kristen Jacobs was a lone voice in pointing out that such a path is not environmentally friendly.
Among other things, she said that a rejection of the new ILA would mean the county would have to truck its solid waste to upstate landfills. And that would undermine Broward’s vaunted recycling system, she said.