Concerns about a possible monopoly aside, Sonoma County supervisors gave initial approval to several lucrative contracts for handling and hauling garbage and reopening the county’s shuttered central landfill.
The two and half hours of public comment and board discussion, witnessed by a nearly packed boardroom, focused partly on whether the locally based Ratto Group of Companies has a lock on waste hauling and disposal services in the area.
“I think we should be concerned about that,” said Supervisor Paul Kelley.
Kelley was alone in a 4-1 vote that awarded the Ratto Group a renewed contract — for up to four years — to operate four of the county’s waste transfer stations plus hauling of waste to a Solano County landfill. The company’s current contract expires at the end of August.
Fellow supervisors nevertheless joined Kelley on Tuesday in expressing other concerns about the Ratto Group.
A court-appointed panel is looking into the financial ties company founder James Ratto has with bankrupt local developer Clem Carinalli. A pair of environmental groups has also signaled their intention to sue the Ratto Group over alleged waste disposal violations in the Petaluma River and Laguna de Santa Rosa.
“While the (issues) are disconcerting to me,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane, “at this point they are only allegations.”
Former supervisor Eric Koenigshofer, who represents the Ratto Group, brushed off the civil court matters before the board Tuesday, calling them “a scurrilous smokescreen … that deserves to be ignored.”
He later said that he did not have information about the business relationship between Carinalli and James Ratto.
Discussion of the Ratto contract also focused on the legal implications of a decades-old voter-passed cap on out-of-county waste in Solano County and a seemingly hidden deal between the Ratto Group and a competitor — Waste Connections Inc., a trash contractor with operations in 26 states.
The deal, unknown to county officials until last week, calls for the exclusive disposal of Sonoma County trash at a Waste Connections landfill in Solano County. That site, however, was not the one slated for use by Ratto in the renewed contract. Officials said the switch could result in legal wrangling between the two companies, a scenario that prompted officials to approach both last week seeking protection from any a lawsuits.
“It concerns me that we’re heading out in a direction where legal issues are a part of our decision,” said board chair Valerie Brown.
Supervisors also went against a recommendation by county staff in a 3-2 vote and awarded two contracts covering the short-term reopening and long-term repermitting of the central landfill to the Phoenix-based company Republic Services Inc. Staff had recommended the short-term disposal contract — meant to stave off a state closure order for the dump and allow for disposal of 150,000 tons of waste over 18 months — be wrapped into the hauling contract with Ratto.
They also recommended that the repermitting contract for long-term operations be awarded to SCS Engineers, an environmental contractor with local headquarters in Petaluma. The company provided the lowest bid — $425,000 — for the estimated two-year project.
Zane expressed her support for SCS Engineers on those grounds, while Supervisor Efren Carrillo voted against giving Republic the contract as part of his stance against Arizona’s recently enacted law on illegal immigration.
Brown, who along with Kelley and Supervisor Mike Kerns backed Republic in the vote, said she went with the Arizona company despite its higher bid — $700,000 — because it was a known quantity.
Republic was first in line last year to handle the complex repermit process and operate the dump before supervisors failed to agree on sale of the facility.
“It just made more sense to use somebody who has already been in our game,” Brown said.
The 39-year-old central landfill west of Cotati has been closed since 2005 over concerns that a damaged dump protective liner might lead to ground water contamination.
Because of the changes made by supervisors Tuesday, the exact amounts of the trash hauling and short-term dump contracts were unknown. Officials estimated their worth at around $50 million.
Supervisors awarded both contracts contingent upon approval of revised contract bids from Ratto and Republic that reflect the division of the contracts between them. Those figures are due for the board’s consideration by early August.