By SVERRE BAKKE
For the first time in its 21-year contractual partnership with the owner/operator of the Roosevelt Landfill, Klickitat County had to sue to enforce its contractual rights.
Shortly before the county and landfill owner/operator Allied Waste Industries, Inc., were scheduled to appear in federal district court in Yakima, however, the parties settled their differences after another round of negotiations produced a solution to a sticky business matter: the control and disposition of existing waste streams acquired as a result of corporate merger.
Klickitat County's board of commissioners approved the settlement agreement -- as well as an addendum to the master contract between the county and Allied Waste that addressed the legal issues -- on June 21, following a public hearing in Goldendale.
In addition to the contract language that protects the interests of both parties, Allied Waste agreed to extend the contract term five years, to make a one-time payment of $100,000 to Klickitat County, and to a compensation formula that pays the county for waste it disposes of elsewhere.
The county filed its lawsuit against Allied Waste in Klickitat County Superior Court in January of this year after negotiations broke down. Allied, however, prevailed on a motion to have the matter heard in federal district court.
"There were a lot of negotiations, but we weren't able to reach a conclusion with them," said Kevin Barry, director of the county's Solid Waste Department. "None of us wanted to go to court but we felt we didn't have another option at that time."
As the May 24 court date approached, though, Barry and landfill manager Matt Henry decided to put their heads together one more time to see if they couldn't work things out. (The Enterprise contacted Mr. Henry by e-mail for comment but did not receive a response prior to its publication deadline.)
"Negotiations were stepped up, and we were able to reach agreement," Barry said. The next step was to get the decision-makers to sign off on the proposals for settlement.
At issue in the lawsuit was an indeterminate amount of waste that originated in Oregon's Multnomah and Washington counties. Allied controlled those waste streams under transportation agreements with local governments in those counties.
But, when Allied bought Regional Disposal Co. (RDC) and the Roosevelt Landfill in 2002, the company's disposal of those waste streams at the Coffin Butte Landfill outside Corvallis came into question.
The county's view held that Allied, as the county's disposal contractor, had to make its best effort to direct waste streams under its control to Roosevelt. The master contract defines a "wasteshed" under which all garbage under Allied's control must go to Roosevelt for disposal. (The wasteshed comprises Washington, Oregon, part of Idaho, Alaska and British Columbia.)
Allied, in its pursuit of RDC, agreed to a contract language that exempted the Willamette Valley from the wasteshed, but not Multnomah and Washington counties.
As Barry pointed, however, "It was garbage that could never have been going to Roosevelt because it was an existing waste stream" that Allied controlled under pre-existing transportation agreements.
Now that the contract amendments are done, and the county has made it clear to Allied that it is going to enforce the contract, Barry said the issue shouldn't come up again in this context. And the disputed Oregon waste stream?
"If it doesn't come to us, we'll still get $1 per ton for that waste, plus we preserve that tipping space in the landfill for waste that will pay us $3 a ton."