OGDEN — Weber County officials will seek a new waste-hauling contract with Republic Services, forgoing a competing proposal from Promontory Point Resources, which operates a new landfill abutting the Great Salt Lake that's been the focus of debate and controversy.
The decision prompted a rebuke from Promontory Point representatives, who question whether the county is following proper legal procedure. They also say their proposal is a better value than the one put forward by Republic, which has long hauled trash collected at the Weber County transfer station in Ogden to a Republic landfill in Tooele County.
"There should be a (request for proposal) process, formal responses, an award and an opportunity for protests so that the county can be assured that its citizens are being served by the responsible/responsive bidder. That’s the law and good policy," Bradley Cahoon, an attorney for Promontory Point parent company Allos Environmental, said in a message to the Standard-Examiner.
Weber County officials, meanwhile, say they are complying with applicable laws and procedures. Sean Wilkinson, director of the county's Community and Economic Development Department, said that while the county has started discussions with Republic, "no formal decisions have been made."
At stake is whether trash collected in Weber County should go to Republic's Tooele County landfill, requiring a trip through Salt Lake City, or the new Promontory Point landfill in Box Elder County, target of criticism from some environmentalists.
The Weber Area Council of Governments Solid Waste Utility Subcommittee, an advisory body made up of elected officials from across the county, made the recommendation last November that the county go with Republic instead of Promontory Point, preceding formal talks. Washington Terrace Mayor Mark Allen, head of the subcommittee, said the unanimous recommendation stemmed from satisfaction with the service Republic has provided over the years.
"It was just experience, history with them... We trusted them. We knew they would be able to transfer that stuff in a timely manner," he said.
Either way, it appears the county will save money. Both companies offered a cut in the current rate Republic charges to haul waste, from $27.78 per ton down 10% to $24.99, though other details in the proposals potentially bear on the precise price paid under each as the years pass. The county-owned transfer station handled nearly 194,000 tons of trash in 2018, and the reduced rate would cut the cost to the county of processing that total from $5.39 million to $4.85 million, at least initially.
Whatever the case, the debate over which firm handles the county's trash may not be over. "We are looking at the situation carefully and evaluating our options," Ann Garner, the Allos chief executive officer, said in an email.
Allos acquired the Promontory Point landfill on Promontory Peninsula in Box Elder County in 2016. Environmentalists worry in part about its proximity to the Great Salt Lake and the possibility of leakage. Promontory Point reps, though, have vigorously defended the landfill, and its website notes that it is more than 3,000 feet from the lake's high-water mark, with "significant design and physical controls" to protect the water.
What's more, Garner cites its location outside the Salt Lake City metropolitan area. Going with Promontory Point would keep trucks leaving the transfer station in Ogden off the roads through Salt Lake City as they head to Republic's Tooele County landfill, "which will lessen congestion and air pollution," she said.
'COUNTY MUST SOLICIT BIDS'
Whether the county should go with Promontory Point instead of Republic has been a point of debate at least since last year. Last August, though, County Commissioner Scott Jenkins said the county's contract with Republic lasted until August 2021 and that breaking the deal would potentially put the county in legal jeopardy.
A clause in the deal with Republic gives the county wiggle room to get out of the contract if a competitor offers to cut the hauling fee by 10%, however. And last September, Promontory Point did just that — offering the reduced $24.99-per-ton rate, a 10% drop, according to a copy of the proposal provided by the county under a public records request. The contract with Republic allows it to match a competitor's proposal, and it did so on Nov. 17, according to its counter-proposal.
That preceded the Nov. 26 meeting of the WACOG Solid Waste Utility Subcommittee, when the body made the recommendation to go with Republic, not Promontory Point. Waste at the transfer station comes from all Weber County's cities, which pay to use the facility, thus they have a stake in its operation and authority through WACOG to weigh in on its operation.
Other details have emerged, though.
Turns out Jenkins' son Austin Jenkins works for Republic, which Scott Jenkins said he disclosed to WACOG officials. Scott Jenkins serves on the WACOG Solid Waste Utility Subcommittee, but he said he participated only peripherally in the debate on the issue and recused himself from the Nov. 26 vote recommending that the county go with Republic, confirmed in draft minutes of the meeting and Allen's recollection of the gathering.
"I just want to make sure I'm squeaky clean on this," Scott Jenkins said. His son's work with Republic as an operations manager, he said, had no bearing in the debate on the matter.
Allen said he recalls Jenkins disclosing his son's role with Republic. The relationship, Allen said, had no bearing on WACOG's ultimate recommendation and Wilkinson, the county official, said it does not create a conflict precluding the county from being able to do business with Republic.
Beyond that, Allos maintains that its offer is better for the county, would save it money relative to Republic's offer based on its lower proposed year-to-year price adjustments. Wilkinson, though, said it's not so clear cut. "There is too much detail lacking in the proposal to determine if it would cost less than Republic's," he said.
Likewise, Allos charged in a Dec. 21 letter that the county has improperly sidestepped contract procurement procedure by extending earlier contracts with Republic. "The county does not have carte blanche to renew or extend its original contract or enter into the contract with Republic. The county must solicit bids for the contract and award the contract to the responsive and responsible bidder, as defined by the (Weber County Code of Ordinances)," the letter to Weber County's three commissioners and several other officials reads.
Weber County Commissioner Gage Froerer, in a Jan. 21 written response to Allos, rebuffed that. "You may disagree with the policy choices that have been made in the past, but those choices — just like the county's current choice to negotiate (with Republic) for another extension — have been authorized by the terms of the original contract, which was valid under all applicable laws," Froerer wrote.