Omaha residents, find some room for two large trash carts. And get ready to mark your calendars for yard waste.
The City Council, in a 4-3 vote Tuesday, awarded the city’s next 10-year trash-hauling contract to FCC Environmental of Spain.
This was the same bid and bidder the council rejected in June, the contract Mayor Jean Stothert and Public Works recommended then and now.
The measure passed Tuesday with the help of a supplemental yard waste plan that added some composting in the spring and fall. Many people who testified at public hearings on trash said they wanted yard waste to be composted.
The total package, at a cost of $24.2 million a year, starts Jan. 1, 2021. City leaders say they can cover the cost without increasing taxes.
FCC’s supporters, including Stothert and council member Vinny Palermo, said FCC would have fewer missed or delayed pickups than other bidders.
“I firmly believe, as does Public Works Department, that this was the lowest and best bid,” Stothert said after the vote.
Under the FCC deal, every Omaha home will receive two 96-gallon trash carts — one for trash and yard waste together, picked up weekly; the other for recycling, picked up every other week. Families of five or more will have the option of requesting a third cart — at the city’s cost.
As part of the trash package, the council, in a 6-1 vote, also approved a plan for eight to 12 weeks of separate unlimited yard waste service, split between the spring and fall. During those weeks of yard waste collection, residents will be able to put yard waste at the curb in familiar paper bags.
The yard waste collected during those periods will be hauled to the city’s OmaGro facility and made into compost. The rest of the year, residents’ clippings will be taken to the landfill.
Stothert and representatives of FCC said Omaha residents will need some time to adjust to the new system. Experiences in other cities show that people will get used to the new carts and enjoy using them, they said.
Sign up for World-Herald news alerts
Be the first to know when news happens. Get the latest breaking headlines sent straight to your inbox.
Many of the City Council’s questions and comments Tuesday concerned the length of time FCC and Stothert were willing to commit to supplemental seasonal yard waste pickup. Some said they feared an early end.
FCC Environmental CEO Inigo Sanz testified that he would be willing to enter a 10-year contract for seasonal yard waste pickup that matches the broader trash bid. That doubled the minimum time the city had requested for seasonal yard waste.
After the vote, Sanz told The World-Herald that his company plans to honor that commitment. Stothert, asked directly, said her administration would not seek to end the extra yard waste contract early, despite OmaGro losing money.
The council Tuesday didn’t pick the trash contract’s low bidder, West Central Sanitation, a Minnesota-based company. West Central had offered three carts, with separate collection of yard waste, for $22.2 million a year.
West Central would have needed to roughly double in size to serve Omaha, and Stothert and Public Works officials had questioned the company’s ability to grow that rapidly without risking failed collections.
West Central owner Don Williamson argued Tuesday that his company’s bids were the city’s cheapest and best whether Omaha wanted to be frugal with two carts or wanted to be more ecologically friendly with three.
Council President Chris Jerram and council member Pete Festersen said before opposing the FCC bid that their constituents preferred a three-cart system that collected yard waste separately for 35 weeks a year.
They were joined in opposition to the FCC bid by council member Rich Pahls, the council’s strongest advocate for West Central. He voted no on the trash contract and the mayor’s supplemental yard waste plan.
FCC’s winning bid drew the support of Palermo, along with council members Ben Gray, Brinker Harding and Aimee Melton. Gray and Harding had indicated before the vote that they were leaning toward FCC.
Melton said she decided Tuesday. She said she spent the past several days visiting grocery stores, restaurants and shops in her northwest Omaha district, asking people what they wanted. Opinions were split, she said.
She and Harding cited similar reasons for their votes: the number of carts. Many people, Melton said, wanted no part of finding space for a third cart. Some were complaining already about getting two, Harding said.
For now, residents should expect no changes to their weekly waste collection. The city’s current $15 million-a-year contract with Waste Management runs through the end of 2020.
FCC says it will move aggressively to buy land and trucks and start hiring many of Waste Management’s current employees. For Gray, the FCC bid was attractive, in part, because it requires more people and trucks.
Assistant Public Works Director Jim Theiler said Tuesday that FCC’s decision to include more resources in all of its bids was a key reason the mayor and a committee including Public Works recommended picking FCC.
Company officials said they will work to establish a local call center to field Omahans’ questions and complaints. They also plan to use Omaha as a Midwestern base of operations so FCC can offer trash service in nearby states.
“Omaha will become our home, just as it is your home,” Sanz said.