Trash talk

Environmental justice claims leveled in the fight for SF's big garbage disposal contract

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Recology is trying to get a Union Pacific rail spur to link to its Yuba County landfill, where it wants to haul SF's trash

Sarah@sfbg.com

The battle to win San Francisco's lucrative garbage disposal contract turned nasty as city officials tentatively recommended it go to Recology (formerly Norcal Waste Systems), causing its main competitor, Oakland-based Waste Management, to claim the selection process was flawed and bad for the environment.

Recology is proposing to dispose of San Francisco's nonrecyclable trash at its Ostrom Road landfill in Yuba County, which is double the distance of the city's current dump. The contract, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, would run until 2025.

For the past three decades, the city has trucked its trash 62 miles to the Altamont landfill near Livermore, under an agreement that relied on the services of the Sanitary Fill Company (now Recology's SF Recycling and Disposal) and Oakland Scavenger Company (now Waste Management of Alameda County).

That agreement allowed up to 15 million tons of San Francisco's municipal solid waste to be handled at Altamont or 65 years of disposal, whichever came first. As of Dec. 31, 2007, approximately 11.9 million tons of the capacity had been used, leaving a balance of 3.1 million tons, which the city estimates will be used up by 2015.

Currently Recology collects San Francisco's curbside trash, hauls it to Pier 96, which is owned by the Port of San Francisco, then sends nonrecyclables to the Altamont landfill operated by Waste Management.

After SF's Department of the Environment issued a request for qualifications in 2007, Waste Management, Recology, and Republic Services were selected as finalists. The city then sent the three companies a request for proposals, asking for formal bids as well as details of how they would minimize and mitigate impacts to the environment, climate, and host communities, among other criteria.

Republic was dropped after a representative failed to show at a mandatory meeting, and Recology was selected during a July 2009 review by a committee composed of DOE deputy director David Assmann, city administrator Ed Lee and Oakland's environmental manager Susan Kattchee.

The score sheet suggests that the decision came down to price, which was 25 percent of the total points and made the difference between Recology's 85 points and Waste Management's 80 in the average scores of the three reviewers. But the scores revealed wide disparities between Kattchee's and Lee's scores, suggesting some subjectivity in the process.

For instance, Kattchee and Lee awarded Recology 15 and 23 points, respectively, for its "approach and adherence to overarching considerations." Kattchee awarded 13 points to Recology's "ability to accommodate City's waste stream," while Lee gave it 24 points. And Kattchee awarded Waste Management 13 points and Lee gave it 20 for its proposed rates.

When the selections and scores were unveiled in November, Waste Management filed a protest letter; Yuba County citizens coalition YUGAG (Yuba Group against Garbage) threatened to sue; and Matt Tuchow, president of the city's Commission on Environment, scheduled a hearing to clarify how the city's proposals was structured, how it scored competing proposals, and why it tentatively awarded Recology the contract.

Emotions ran high during the March 23 hearing, which did little to clarify why Recology was selected. Assmann said that much of the material that supports the city's selection can't be made public until the bids are unsealed, which won't happen until the city completes negotiations with Recology and the proposal heads to the Board of Supervisors for approval.