Supervisors set to approve $547 million deal to operate landfill

  • Heavy equipment spreads and compresses garbage at the Sonoma County Landfill, on the highest portion of the property, Friday April 5, 2013 near Petaluma. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

Sonoma County supervisors Tuesday are set to formally approve a deal that would expand the county's central landfill by permanently turning over operations to a national solid waste contractor.

The switch, which keeps the 42-year-old Mecham Road site west of Cotati in public ownership, would begin under a 20-year-deal worth an estimated $547 million.

The main contractor would be Arizona-based Republic Services, which has been operating the dump on an interim basis for the county since late 2010.

The Board of Supervisors voiced support for the plan in its meeting two weeks ago. County approval Tuesday would set in motion a series of decisions by local cities to commit their garbage, a vital element of the plan.

The deal has been called the largest single public-private business contract in county history, but it could be overshadowed Tuesday by board discussion of an even bigger initiative: the county's bid to create its own power agency.

That 9 a.m. hearing is scheduled before the vote on the landfill deal and it could take up much of the morning.

The solid waste decision comes four years after a controversial and ultimately unsuccessful attempt by the county to sell the troubled landfill. It was closed for five years starting in 2005 because of water quality concerns raised by state regulators.

Many opponents of the attempted sale, including environmental groups and others, have endorsed the new landfill proposal or withheld any objections.

Supporters say private operation stands to succeed where the county couldn't. It would stabilize and cap annual rate increases — avoiding the steep average hikes imposed by the county over the past two decades — settle more than $90 million in county and city solid waste liabilities, increase recycling and ensure the existence of an in-county disposal site for at least the next two decades through a $60 million expansion the county couldn't afford on its own.

Republic Services would assume all closure and post-closure costs for the landfill in perpetuity.

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