Metro's Solid Waste Hauling Contract: Not Sexy, but Really Important

By Ben DuPree of Portland, Oregon. Ben currently serves as a member-at-large on the Metro Regional Government's Committee on Citizen Involvement. He has previously served as Reed College's Student Body President, staff associate for Portland City Commissioner Sam Adams, Outreach Coordinator and member-at-large for the West Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, and in public relations for healthcare locals within the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

One of the Metro Regional Government's charges is moving and disposing of our solid waste. Once it leaves our trashcans and local municipalities deliver the waste to regional facilities, it's on Metro to make sure it gets safely and reliably to its eventual final destination. If you're really interested in the gritty details, Metro's website has an excellent overview of the region's recycling and solid waste program.

Presently, Metro trucks its solid waste. According to their website, "the metro region generates 2.6 million tons of waste each year. Approximately 532,000 tons per year are sent to the Arlington landfill site. Since 1990, Metro has contracted with a trucking firm, CSU Transport (and predecessor firms), to haul the waste." If you want to learn more about the region's waste hauling history and how we got where we are today, Metro has set up an informative website. While this isn't sexy and we'd probably all prefer to not contemplate multiple tons of garbage too intimately, Metro's solid waste hauling program is important and coming to a pivotal crossroads.

On December 31, 2009, the current 20-year contract to haul the Metro region's garbage will expire. Thus, since the Fall of 2007, Metro has been laying the groundwork to secure a new, long-term waste hauling contract for the next 10 years. As scheduled, the ongoing process for this contract is as follows:

Fall 2007 – Draft request for proposals (RFP) released for industry and public comment
Winter 2007 – Final RFP released
Winter 2007 – Proposals received
Winter and spring 2008 – Proposals evaluated/negotiated
Summer 2008 – Metro Council evaluates and considers proposals
Summer 2008 – Council awards contract
Fall 2008 and winter 2009 – Preparation (mobilization) of new transport operations
January 1, 2010 – New waste transport contract begins

At the April 2nd meeting of the Metro Committee for Citizen Involvement (MCCI), Metro President David Bragdon came before us to present the ongoing status of the new solid waste hauling contract. As it stands, Metro has just begun to receive bids for this contract, and will consider the bids throughout the spring and early summer. Although the government had been hoping to solicit transportation bids from the trucking, barge, and rail industries, only the first two materialized in the end. In all, the Metro government has received seven bids (six truck, one barge/truck combo) from haulers.

This process is complicated and will require tremendous thought by the Metro Councilors and staff, and a robust public input. Indeed, it'll require the best of all of us to ensure oversight of this project, wherein Metro hopes to strike a fine balance amongst: "cost effectiveness; flexibility, reliability and risk; community concerns and impacts; and environmental impacts."

In that light, what can you do to help the process and to provide citizen oversight? First, take Metro's solid waste hauling contract online survey -- let the government know which concerns matter most to you as they consider their incoming hauling bids. Next, you can e-mail or call Bobbie Hasselbring (503-797-1599) at Metro Solid Waste and Recycling to receive notifications about the contract's status. Finally. if you have ongoing concerns about the contract or solid waste hauling in general, contact your Metro Councilor or the Metro Government's Solid Waste Advisory Committee. As always, feel free to contact me with questions on public input or citizen involvement.

  • Garlynn -- (unverified)

    It sucks that, no matter what, the region will be spewing tons more of diesel pollution to haul away our trash to a landfill on the other side of the largest mountain range in the state.

    I wish we had the foresight to issue bonds against the trash revenue, and electrify the rail line between Portland and Arlington, so as to use electric trains to haul the trash.

    A side benefit, of course, would be an electrified railway through the Columbia River Gorge. That couldn't possibly be useful for anything else, could it?

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    Indeed- I think everyone had hoped for a rail option, but one didn't materialize.

    As for overall rail usefulness, you name it. I'm an advocate for smarter, better transit options, especially considering rising cost of fuel and for overall livability.

  • Chris (unverified)

    Trains are much more efficient than trucks in terms of diesel fuel, and guess what? The train goes through arlington. If any of these commissioners or advisory committee members were actually interested in solving the problem, they would have had a spur in Arlington years ago, and transfered the trash to the landfill locally, rather than lining the pockets of their cronies, who undoubtedly own the contract carrier for trucking the refuse. Everything is connected here people, don't think for a second that Ben Dupree or anyone else actually wants this problem solved, it's just public comment to meet public comment requirements, that's all.

  • Erik H. (unverified)

    It's ridiculous that there was "no rail option" materialize.

    The entire Seattle region hauls their garbage to Arlington and Roosevelt by train.

    A contractor owns a fleet of containers that have open tops (with netting) so they can be easily loaded and unloaded. There's a few hundred excess containers sitting in North Portland storage yards that could be easily obtained for a couple hundred dollars each - blowtorch the roofs off, and you have garbage containers.

    Metro could buy a fleet of container well cars from...oh, that big company off of Front Avenue here in Portland that makes railroad cars. Gunderson, I think their name is. Thus, supporting LOCAL INDUSTRY and LOCAL JOBS.

    Both of Metro's transfer stations are already next to raillines. In fact the North Portland transfer station is about one mile from Gunderson. The Oregon City station is off of the Union Pacific mainline. And to really be "green" one could be built in Troutdale or somewhere out east so that garbage trucks in East County aren't driving across town.

    Union Pacific would get the haul from Portland to Arlington, where UP and Waste Management already have a contract railroad that pulls the trains up to the unload site. 60 trucks a day = 30 containers. 30 containers = 15 railroad cars. A typical intermodal train has close to 100 cars - one train a week with three locomotives (and two crew members) could do the work of the 60 trucks a day running up and down the gorge. (With the barge option, there is still the need to truck the garbage from the transfer station to the barge dock, and reverse. While a truck is still required at the Arlington end they would be the same kind of trucks you see at the Port of Portland that simply shuffle trailers around the yard.)

    I can only think that some people didn't look hard enough for the solution. Those garbage trains from Seattle already pass through the Portland area.

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    As much of a train junkie as Bragdon is, I suspect that he worked very hard to find a way to haul the garbage by train - and if there wasn't a bid, then there truly wasn't anyone to make the bid.

    Seriously, the dude rides trains on his vacations. The destination is less important than the ride.

    Full disclosure: I managed David's general election campaign for Metro in 1998, but I speak only for myself.

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    Chris- Yeah, because I make loads of money by volunteering on a committee. Your claims are severely-put, but you're 100% right to note that the rail does go through there and to ask tough questions. And it sucks thoroughly about the lack of a rail bid.

    Erik- Yup. And that's why discussion of this is so important. Letting the Councilors know that you're wholly unsatisfied with the way it's gone down is the right step. And you're absolutely right about the barge, too.

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    And, to Kari's point, I also have a really positive view of David and his commitment. He's an earnest guy, and I don't doubt he and his fellow Councilors tried.

    In fact, I believe they were probably quite surprised at the lack of one.

  • David Bragdon (unverified)

    We did everything we could to solicit rail (as well as barge) bids. We were notified the week before the deadline that the railroad chose not to bid, apparently because they have other business which they value more than they value ours. (In the current global situation the railroads are making a lot more money hauling grain and coal.) We did receive one bid from a barge company. The reason the Seattle waste moves by rail is that Seattle-Arlington is a longer haul than Portland-Arlington (the longer the haul the more competitive rail is compared to truck) and because the Seattle contract was made when the railroads were hungrier than they are now, before the current boom in coal and grain.

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