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A divided Windsor Town Council has awarded the town’s garbage collection contract to a new company despite complaints from other bidders that the process was unfair and likely to be challenged in court.

On a 3-2 vote late Wednesday, the council assigned the hauling contract for the next 10 years to Green Waste Recovery Inc., with a majority of the council citing the lower rates and environmental practices of the San-Jose based company.

Mayor Debora Fudge said the council shouldn’t “cave in” to the threat of a lawsuit from critics or “we’re playing right into their hands.”

But council members who dissented raised concerns over Green Waste’s plans for a proposed transfer station in Petaluma for recycled materials that is not yet permitted.

A Green Waste representative assured the council the company is confident of being able to get the necessary permits by Sept. 30 — when the current garbage contract expires — to turn a church property at 879 and 901 Lindberg Ave., Petaluma, into a facility for transferring containers with recyclable materials to bigger trucks for a longer haul to San Jose.

“The issue in Petaluma bothers me,” said Councilman Bruce Okrepkie, who said he was concerned with the permitting process, not the threat of legal action.

Councilman Dominic Foppoli said he was bothered that Green Waste withdrew partway through the life of its hauling contract with Petaluma, despite the positive comments Wednesday from Petaluma Mayor David Glass who said Green Waste was “first class” and delivered “really good service.”

But a majority of the council chose Green Waste, citing lower rates, educational outreach to customers, as well as its low carbon footprint, including a plant near Gilroy that extracts energy from food waste to power its processing operations.

Windsor’s bidding is being closely watched by Santa Rosa because many of the same players and issues have been involved in both municipalities’ searches for a new hauler.

The Ratto Group, the same company that holds Windsor’s expiring contract, also has a contract with Santa Rosa that runs out at the end of the year.

Santa Rosa narrowed the field of bidders down to two finalists: Green Waste, and Waste Management, the nation’s largest garbage firm.

Rattling a legal saber at Windsor’s meeting on Wednesday was an environmental law firm that is demanding a full environmental review of the various proposals the town has received for its garbage contract.

Attorney Richard Drury, representing Petaluma River Council and Community Science Institute, said homes sit within 600 feet of the Lindberg Avenue facility, and there will be odors and other impacts that need more study.

The Lindberg property is south of Target and the East Washington Place shopping center.

It would serve as a recycling transfer station, with material directly transferred from one covered vehicle to another, to be taken to San Jose for sorting. Garbage would be taken to the county landfill west of Cotati.

Drury raised similar objections last month to a transfer facility Green Waste was contemplating building on an industrial parcel on West Robles Avenue in Santa Rosa.

Green Waste subsequently announced it was dropping its option to buy that site and instead was settling on Petaluma.

Windsor town attorneys say awarding the contract to any of the five competitors does not have sufficient impact to warrant full-blown environmental review.

Council members on Wednesday repeatedly mentioned the difficulty in making a choice among the five bidders. The hauling contract for garbage and recycling service is worth more than $52 million in revenues to Green Waste.

“My gut instinct is Green Waste,” said Councilman Mark Millan, who voted in the majority with Fudge and Sam Salmon. He said if the council didn’t go with Green Waste, “six months from now the public will wonder why we didn’t pick the lowest rate.”

Rates are still projected to rise on Oct. 1 and would have regardless of which company was chosen.

The current monthly rate of $17.20 for a 32-gallon garbage container will increase to $23 under Green Waste. A 64-gallon container will go from $29.31 currently, to $36 with Green Waste.

Those tiers were less than the proposals from four other companies, including the current contract holder, Windsor Refuse and Recycling, a subsidiary of the Ratto Group.

Windsor has enjoyed historically low rates with Windsor Refuse and Recycling, but they are unsustainable, said Kristina Owens, administrative operations manager.

There have been new laws and developments in waste disposal, pushing up costs, she said, including spikes in fees at the county landfill; increased fees to process green and organic waste; and a drop in demand in the international market for recyclables, leading to lower revenue for the waste hauler.

Windsor is the only one of Sonoma County’s nine cities that has a voter mandate for solid waste services to be bid every decade, the result of a ballot initiative approved in 1996 intended to achieve lower rates and better service.

Windsor Refuse and Recycling was among the bidders even though Ratto is being bought out by San Francisco-based Recology Inc., one of the largest garbage and recycling operations on the West Coast.

Windsor Refuse and Recycling attorney Doug Strauss asserted that the town violated the ordinance by engaging in “a backroom deal,” allowing Green Waste and another bidder, Sonoma County Resource Recovery, to negotiate a best and final offer in private meetings with town staff.

He said Green Waste should have been disqualified because it doesn’t have the permits it needs for its intended 5-acre Petaluma transfer site, which would also serve as a corporation yard and for administrative offices.

“There may be legal activity that prevents operations from going forward,” he told the council.

Town Attorney Robin Donaghue said she couldn’t disagree more with Strauss, saying there was nothing illegal or improper about how the town went about the bidding procedure, with an extensive and lengthy process and number of public meetings that clearly met the requirements of the Windsor voter initiative.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 707-521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@clarkmas