The low bidder on Omaha’s next trash contract says that its automated and semi-automated trucks could pick up garbage with only a driver, even in the city’s tightest alleys and streets.

The company’s chief competitor for the contract and Public Works argue those areas would be better served with rear-loading trucks staffed with a second sanitation worker who hops on and off the truck to fetch trash.

On Thursday, Minnesota-based West Central Sanitation brought its front- and side-loading trucks to the city to demonstrate how the company would do the job — and do it for less money.

West Central put out 104 new 96-gallon trash carts in three South Omaha neighborhoods. Then, one of its experienced drivers, trainer Rick Goff, used the trucks’ automated arms to grab and collect the cans’ contents.

In the alleys tested Thursday, automated trucks made one pass in each direction to grab the carts. The company also displayed a rear-loading smaller truck for the hardest-to-reach places and for missed pickups.

The visit represented a closing argument from West Central, the bidder favored by many on the City Council but not by Mayor Jean Stothert or Public Works. The mayor said she continues to support a contract with a larger trash company, FCC Environmental of Spain.

Many living in the test areas stepped out of their houses to watch the new trucks. A few threw away some items that West Central collected.

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The areas West Central chose, near South 19th and J Streets, South 32nd and Oak Streets and South 12th and Hickory Streets, have narrow alleys, with alley-facing garages, eaves, low power lines and cars parked on the street.

West Central owner Don Williamson said Public Works identified the three sites as some of the most difficult places in the city to pick up trash.

“We wanted to show them it will work as efficiently as we have proposed and experienced,” Williamson told The World-Herald, which observed the test.

The automated arm on West Central’s trucks collected every can along Goff’s routes. A handful of times, primarily when blocked by on-street parking or the cart’s placement, Goff left the truck and wheeled carts into position.

Goff said West Central wanted to show that one person could do the job. Controls on the outside of the truck helped him grab a cart when he had to get out of the truck, then put the can back and get going.

The director of collection services at FCC, Dan Brazil, said his company could collect trash faster using rear-loading trucks and a second person. That lets FCC pick up trash in alleys in one pass, not two.

FCC’s approach also would ensure jobs for more people now working for the city’s current trash hauler, Waste Management. About 130 would secure work at FCC, he said, with most doing collections.

West Central says it would need less help because of automation but that workers would be more likely to stay, because they’d work in better conditions, including air-conditioned truck cabs. They expect to need from 90 to more than 100 workers, depending on the level of service Omaha selects.

City Council members Rich Pahls, Ben Gray and Brinker Harding said they were impressed with West Central’s demonstration. Each said it looked like West Central could do the job.

“They performed in areas the city had designated as some of the toughest in the city for handling waste,” Pahls said.

West Central, which would have to roughly double in size to serve Omaha, recorded video of how the trucks work to share with council members who couldn’t attend, Public Works and Stothert.

Stothert has resisted recommending a West Central bid, though she repeated on Thursday that she’d be willing to forward the council a West Central bid if that was the only option council members would approve.

Stothert has recommended the city hire a more established waste hauler with a record of handling jobs the size of Omaha’s. Her recommendation remains FCC Environmental, which collects trash in Houston and Dallas and has pledged to build an operations center in Omaha as part of a new toehold in the Midwest.

West Central’s largest market today is Mankato, Minnesota. Its leaders have argued that it serves a combined customer base that’s larger than Omaha. The City Council rejected an FCC bid in June. The council is likely to receive a new bid or bids from the mayor before the council’s July 23 meeting.

Stothert said the council can’t wait long to act. The city’s next trash contractor needs more than a year to prepare, she said. The city’s current trash contract runs through the end of 2020.

“The council is going to have to approve something,” Stothert said, “because we are running out of time.”

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