Windsor to reconsider the town’s $52 million garbage contract

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Just when it seemed Windsor had a new garbage hauling company for the next 10 years, the Town Council has had a change of heart, upending a multimillion dollar deal it struck last month over one of the town’s most basic municipal functions.

The move reflects political and legal hurdles facing a proposed Petaluma recycling transfer station proposed by the new operator and comes as Santa Rosa weighs its options for a new garbage contract, one of the most lucrative services that local cities outsource.

The Windsor Council on Tuesday night voted 4-1 to reconsider the contract it awarded to Green Waste Recovery Inc., citing unresolved issues over the company’s proposed Petaluma transfer station, including its proximity to residences.

As a result, four other companies that initially bid for the contract will have another shot at hauling Windsor’s commercial and residential refuse and reaping at least $52 million in revenue over 10 years.

Windsor Councilman Sam Salmon, who initially voted May 17 to award the town’s contract to Green Waste, was the one who requested his colleagues reconsider their 3-2 vote, citing new information, including the proximity of homes to the Petaluma site.

In a brief interview prior to Tuesday’s council meeting, Salmon, who is an attorney, said choosing Green Waste with the associated objections to the Petaluma facility may involve “more risk in terms of litigation.

“There seems to be legal vulnerability on anything surrounding waste at this point,” he added.

The council’s reversal came amid threats of litigation over the lack of an environmental review for the Petaluma transfer site, as well as a letter from three Petaluma City Council members raising objections.

Although the site at 879 and 901 Lindberg Lane in Petaluma is zoned for industrial uses, council members there raised the specter of groundwater contamination and noted that it is directly next door to an occupied home. The 4-acre site also is across the street from retail and office uses, and close to a youth-oriented gymnastics facility.

“Although the site is relatively close to both the East Washington and Lakeville Highway interchanges on Highway 101, the surface streets connecting both intersections to the Lindberg Lane site suffer serious congestion. Traffic circulation is a serious concern,” Petaluma Council members Mike Healy, Gabe Kearney and Kathy Miller wrote to their counterparts in Windsor.

But their letter was in contrast to the position of Petaluma Mayor David Glass who went to Windsor two weeks ago to support Green Waste’s bid for the contract, saying the San Jose-based company was “first class” and delivered “really good service” when it was Petaluma’s hauler.

Windsor’s bidding process has been closely watched by Santa Rosa because many of the same players and issues have been involved as both cities look to renew their expiring garbage contracts.

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

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

Windsor’s other top choice was Sonoma County Resource Recovery, owned by Garden City Group, Marin Sanitary Service Group and its president Kevin Walbridge.

Salmon said when he voted last month for Green Waste, he had not had a chance to review last-minute, extensive documentation of environmental impacts provided by the Lozeau Drury law firm, which demanded a full environmental review of the various proposals the town has received for its garbage contract.

The law firm, representing Petaluma River Council and Community Science Institute, said the nearby homes could be subject to odors from the transfer facility, as well air pollution and traffic.

The law firm is the same one that helped shut down Sonoma County’s composting operation because of issues raised over water contamination.

Mayor Debora Fudge, the lone council member to vote against reconsidering the contract award, said Wednesday “there aren’t any problems with the Petaluma facility. I think that’s a smoke screen.”

“There are unsuccessful bidders that I believe are trying to muddy the waters,” she continued, declining to be more specific because she said she couldn’t prove her claims.

“I was floored that the council would vote to reconsider a garbage contract with a company that had the lowest overall rates and the highest environmental score,” she said.

Councilman Mark Millan, who originally voted to go with Green Waste before reconsidering his vote Tuesday, said it was “awkward” to have a 3-2 vote for such a significant decision and it needed a fuller consensus.

“It would be better if it had the support of all council members,” he said.

Green Waste officials were not immediately available for comment following the council’s decision. In letters to town officials, they said the company planned to use the Petaluma site to do limited processing of clean, recyclable materials indoors.

The recyclables would be taken to San Jose for sorting. Garbage would go directly from Windsor to the county landfill west of Cotati.

The Petaluma site was home to a construction company for decades and more recently for a church.

Green Waste said its proposed use falls within the industrial zoning for the land and should not trigger the need for a conditional use permit from Petaluma as opposed to an over-the-counter approval.

But in their letter objecting to Green Waste’s plan, the three Petaluma City Council members — just under half of the seven-member council — said it appears it would require such a permit.

Petaluma planning officials did not respond to emails and phone calls Wednesday. But if a conditional use permit is required for the transfer facility, it would be subject to approval by the Planning Commission and ultimately any decision could be appealed to the City Council.

As a result of the reconsideration of Green Waste’s contract, the matter will come back to the Windsor Council for discussion at its June 7 meeting. It’s likely to be continued, however, because two council members will be out of town that day and unable to participate.

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

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