Omaha residents would combine trash and yard waste into a single 96-gallon cart for most of the year under a proposed trash-hauling contract that is emerging as the City Council’s favorite.
The plan would let residents fill one cart a week with a mix of grass clippings and trash to be taken to the landfill. But for eight to 12 weeks in the spring and fall, the city would pick up unlimited amounts of bagged yard waste and turn it into OmaGro compost. There also would be a cart for recycling.
In all, Omaha taxpayers would pay $24.2 million a year if the City Council accepts the plan by FCC Environmental of Spain.
The council expects to vote on the contract this month.
The FCC plan is drawing more support on the council than the second-most-popular bid, one from West Central Sanitation of Minnesota. West Central proposes year-round collection of yard waste to be turned into compost, although the city would pay only for picking up the yard waste that fits in a single 96-gallon cart. Residents would get a second separate cart for trash and a third for recycling. That bid costs $22.2 million a year.
The council’s options narrowed in recent days, after the city received bids for Mayor Jean Stothert’s idea for supplemental yard-waste collection. Two bids the city opened last week clarified the costs of adding the extra yard-waste service to the same FCC contract the City Council rejected in June.
FCC bid up to 12 weeks of additional yard-waste pickup at $1.5 million. West Central bid the same supplemental plan at $12.7 million, though it says it can provide unlimited yard-waste service for about $8.5 million.
The gap between the FCC and West Central supplemental bids shook up a council majority that previously favored West Central. West Central’s two-cart bid, without the supplemental plan, cost about $7 million less than FCC’s two-cart bid without the extra yard waste.
Many of the council’s West Central supporters, including Brinker Harding and Aimee Melton, said they are now reconsidering FCC.
“I may have been leaning one way,” Harding said. “But I’ve always said I wanted to have all the information in hand before I make a final decision.”
The biggest differences between the yard-waste bids appear to be how many trucks, routes and people each company said it would need to do the job.
Public Works says West Central’s new yard-waste bid would add 30 trucks to the company’s original trash pickup plan, boosting it to 70 from 40. Each of those trucks would need people to operate them. West Central wants to hire full-time employees, instead of temporary workers.
FCC’s bid says it plans to rent 17 trucks, limit employee vacations during the spring and fall pickup periods, bring in drivers from elsewhere and subcontract if needed.
Stothert and Public Works have said for months that West Central’s bid included too few trucks and routes. An independent study was inconclusive. Stothert said the use of new trucks from the yard-waste bid in the company’s wider trash plan shows that West Central needed more.
“They recognized what they put in that original bid that they would be unsuccessful in Omaha,” she said Wednesday.
West Central owner Don Williamson said his company added the new trucks after talking to the current contractor, Waste Management, and researching what’s needed to handle unlimited yard waste in Omaha.
Public Works and Stothert both recommended the FCC supplemental yard-waste bid on Tuesday. They’ve long backed FCC.
Council members say they are waiting on answers soon from Public Works to questions on the supplemental yard-waste plan. The list includes questions about financial penalties for nonperformance and how much flexibility the city has in deciding which eight to 12 weeks would receive the extra yard-waste service.
Several, including Councilman Vinny Palermo, echoed council President Chris Jerram’s previous concerns about the risk of a garbage hauler failing.
“Everybody likes the little guy,” said Palermo, who still backs FCC. “I like Rocky. But our obligation at the end of the day is to provide this service to the citizens of Omaha.”
Melton said she wonders whether FCC low-balled the yard-waste bid to help secure the trash contract and whether West Central low-balled its trash bid.
Both companies said they didn’t. FCC said it expects to turn a profit on its extra yard-waste bid, and West Central said it stands by its trash bid.
Council members have said they want to avoid having a waste hauler come back and say they can’t afford to do what the contract requires.
They point to Waste Management’s decision to combine trash and yard waste in Omaha, pay the contract penalty and take both materials to the landfill.
Stothert and Public Works have said for months that FCC’s bid leaves more wiggle room for the unknown, including hailstorms and snow.
Sign up for The World-Herald's afternoon updates
Receive a summary of the day’s popular and trending stories from Omaha.com.
FCC’s director of collection services, Dan Brazil, said his company’s new bid shows its trash bid planned enough people and trucks to do the job.
“We’re not trying to supplement our main collection,” Brazil said.
West Central’s Williamson said having more help for regular pickups is being responsible with the yard-waste bid, not padding the company’s trash bid.
He said Omaha knows the risk of depending on temporary labor for yard-waste collection: delayed collections. Hiring year-round help for seasonal yard-waste pickup is more reliable in a tight labor market, he said.
“West Central ... has proposed the most robust, stable and well-resourced yard-waste collection system for the City of Omaha,” Williamson said.
Councilman Rich Pahls, one of West Central’s staunchest supporters, said he needed more answers before commenting.
Residents can weigh in on the contract at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the City-County Building during the council’s public hearing .
Council members say they hope to hear which type of composting Omaha residents want, if any, and how much people are willing to pay.
The status quo is not an option. No waste company bid to extend the city’s $15 million contract with Waste Management, which runs through 2020.