Waste Management

Omaha officials have canceled recycling pickup Friday and Saturday due to delays caused by the weather earlier this week. 

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert signaled Wednesday that she’s prepared to send the City Council a trash contract that the majority of the council supports, even if she prefers a different approach.

But before she does, she asked council members to put in writing what level of trash service they want, at what cost, and who they want to provide it.

Stothert said the need to get a deal done means she’s willing, for the first time, to forward the council a bid from Minnesota-based West Central Sanitation, the city’s low bidder.

A clear majority of the council has expressed support to The World-Herald for picking West Central as the city’s next waste hauler.

But, Stothert said, any West Central contract would come without an endorsement from her or the Public Works Department. The implication of such a stance: The council would own any problems that arose from the choice.

Stothert and Public Works have argued that choosing West Central is risky. They say the company would have to take out loans and grow rapidly to serve Omaha.

Stothert’s letter repeated her argument that the council should question whether a smaller company is equipped to handle emergencies and other contingencies.

Waste Management, the city’s current trash hauler and also the nation’s largest, struggled to catch up on curbside pickup after a hailstorm in late May.

Omahans saw delays of a couple of days to several days. The city received nearly 2,600 verified complaints of missed collections the week of June 3.

“It took extreme measures to get back on schedule,” Stothert wrote, including relocating Waste Management employees from other cities.

West Central might not have enough trucks or staffing to respond to such situations, she said.

Stothert said Omaha needs the City Council to settle on a trash contract soon. She called the deadline to make a decision “imminent.”

“We are really under the gun now,” she said.

The mayor said the city’s next trash contractor needs 14 to 16 months to set up shop. The current contract runs through the end of 2020.

Stothert plans to meet with West Central leaders Thursday for the first time. She met with leaders of her preferred contractor, Spain-based FCC Environmental, last week.

The mayor continued to emphasize Wednesday that the council should reconsider a $22.7 million-a-year bid from FCC. The council rejected the FCC bid on a 6-1 vote June 4.

Her favored FCC bid would provide residents with a pair of 96-gallon carts, one for trash and yard waste combined and one for recycling.

The mayor, after receiving feedback from the public, has recommended adding unlimited seasonal yard waste pickup to the proposal.

Several council members have said they need more information about the cost of the yard waste proposal before voting to adopt the separate trash contract.

Others said they prefer West Central, because it offers more services for less money.

West Central’s bid would provide three carts to each Omaha household — one each for trash, recycling and yard waste. The $22.2 million-a-year bid also includes composting of yard waste.

Stothert has stressed that people would pay extra for any yard waste above what fills a 96-gallon cart under the three-cart West Central bid.

Council members have argued that West Central also offers a cheaper two-cart bid that’s more directly comparable with the rejected FCC bid for about $15 million a year.

That bid could be supplemented by the mayor’s yard waste plan and save taxpayers money, they said.

West Central owner Don Williamson has said his company has wanted to bid on the Omaha trash contract for decades and is ready to take it on. He said the company has access to the financing it needs to execute its plans.

Stothert, in a letter to the council Wednesday, said she has instructed Public Works to quickly bid out her plan for unlimited yard waste pickup for six weeks each spring and fall.

The city’s goal is to advertise for bids on July 17 and receive them back by Aug. 7.

Stothert also said Public Works has secured two-month extensions on the bids from FCC and West Central. Both bids were set to expire in July. They’ll now remain valid into September.

Council President Chris Jerram said Wednesday that he has shared his constituents’ trash priorities many times, both publicly and privately, with the mayor and Public Works.

Council members Brinker Harding, Aimee Melton and Rich Pahls said they appreciated Stothert’s decision to meet with West Central. Harding and Melton said they would write up their thoughts for Stothert.

Pahls said he’s made his position clear. He wants a West Central bid.

But council member Ben Gray bristled at the idea that the council should determine which contract the mayor sends to the council.

“It’s our job to ferret out if the contract she sends us is what the community wants,” Gray said.

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