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County Council, April 7

Consideration of new technologies for waste treatment abandoned
RFP for Materials Recycling Facility to move ahead
Warwick Jones

The Finance Committee struggled after the presentations by the two companies making proposals to manage, extend and improve the County’s recycling efforts. It struggled to comprehend the contents of the presentations, to accept their plausibility, to make reasonable comparisons, and to reach a conclusion. In the end, it opted to follow the old adage “when in doubt do nothing”. After some debate, the Committee decided, (or defaulted) to simply move ahead with its own plan to build a Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) and to defer any consideration of utilizing new technologies until the MRF plant was constructed. And from the discussion, any new technology considered would have to be proven.

Chairman Summey apologized to the representatives of the two companies, RePower South and Waste Management. They had responded to a Request for Proposals (RFP) and spent some time preparing their proposals- all for nought. And from the comments made by Waste Management, and some Council members, the County was not blameless. The RFP was flawed in that the language stated that any proposal must complement the present and planned operations of the County. This restrained Waste Management’s proposal as well as did the right for the County to terminate any contract. RePower South’s proposal went further than that stipulated in the RFP.

On face value, RePower South’s proposal would have won hands down – it recovered more recyclable material, dumped less at the Bees Ferry landfill, would charge the County 10% less per ton than the present cost (representing $2.5 million of annual savings), and very importantly, provide the capital for its MRF and ancillary plant. It also wanted a 25 year contract. It would utilize Single Stream processing that it had developed and which was being used in a new plant in Montgomery, Alabama.

The video of the plant in operation was impressive and it indicated a complex passage of trash over screens and through mechanical sorters. The extracted products - plastics, glass, and paper – were baled and sold in the market. The spokesman for RePower South said there was a ready market for all the products. It denied allegations paper recovered from household waste was unsaleable.

Waste Management’s presentation had no accompanying video and in a sense was lack luster. As Chairman Summey observed, the presentation seemed designed more to question the proposal by RePower South than to advance its own prospects. Waste Management is a very large public company and well experienced. When it makes a statement that what is proposed by RePower South is unlikely to work, people pay attention. And that effectively what it said last night. The technology was unproven and the nature of some of the recycled products made their sale doubtful.

The proposal by Waste Management was to construct a plant to treat the 250,000 tons presently the County sends to landfills. This plant would pelletize about 40% of the waste for sale as a fuel, and the remaining 60% would go to the landfill. The cost of the plant would be $50 million which Waste Management expected the County to finance.

Waste Management also indicated that there were flaws in the RFP. Regardless, its proposal spoke to the RFP. It was particularly restrained by the retention by the County of a contract termination clause and to be able to change the contract at any time. There was an inference that Waste Management could have submitted a more competitive proposal if the RFP were different. Waste Management, largely in consequence of the limitations, proposed only a 10 year contract. The amortization of the plant construction cost over 10 years rather than 25 years, raises the cost per ton of treatment.

There was soul searching on the Finance Committee over the RFP. Council member Rawl probably dug the deepest suggesting that the RFP was flawed and that its terms were too restraining, a remark he made at the previous Finance Committee meeting. Another Council member also noted that the consultant to the County on Solid Waste had misgivings about the RFP when it was drafted. And what surprised us, and certainly some members of the Committee, was that the consultant had not been asked to review the proposals of the two companies.

At the conclusion of the presentations and subsequent discussion, the Committee weighed its decision. Council members Qualey and Rawl attempted to shape a motion that would have staff develop a new RFP and which took into consideration matters arising from the presentations and discussion. Council member Schweers said no. Let’s forget about it, proceed with our own plans and when the MRF is completed, then consider new technologies. He doubted that a new RFP would make a difference. His view was endorsed by County Administrator Taylor. He thought staff would be hard pressed to reword the RFP as instructed by Council. He could have noted that the recommendation of staff before last night’s presentations was to abandon the investigation of new technologies and move ahead with existing plans for a MRF. Consideration of new technologies after the completion of the MRF should be confined to those proven.

There were a lot of figures bandied around during last night’s meeting and Committee members, like us, had difficulty in putting them into context. Council member Rawl was relentless at times in his search in defining the parameters in determining certain estimates and we wonder whether he achieved total satisfaction. Chairman Summey complained that for all his years on Council, he had never been able to obtain a total cost per ton estimate (against the 300,000 tons collected each year) for collecting, treating and dumping the County’s trash. Now that he is the Chair of Council, all he has to do is ask!

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