New solid waste contract talks begin in Columbia County : KZHE News Blog
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New solid waste contract talks begin in Columbia County

by J.D. Bailey on 05/03/22

With Columbia County’s current solid waste provider contract coming to an end next summer, the Quorum Court's Solid Waste Committee met this week to discuss preliminary negotiation matters for its next longterm garbage and recycling collection deal.

The county currently contracts with GFL Environmental Inc., a Canadian-based waste provider that acquired Waste Corporation of Arkansas (WCA) in 2020. Columbia County’s relationship with WCA-GFL Environmental dates back to at least 2015, when the county signed a three-year deal with the company. In 2018, the Columbia County Quorum Court voted to extend the contract another five years, or until July 31, 2023.

The only other bidder during the last contract negotiation phase was Get Rid of It of America. The El Dorado-based waste company had previously contracted with Columbia County, but, in 2018, numerous justices of the peace brought up recurring truck and transportation problems they had experienced with their prior association with Get Rid of It, and the court elected to stay with WCA.

As it sits now, Columbia County pays just over $187,000 per month to GFL Environmental for its solid waste services. The figure includes a base fee of $172,000, plus applicable taxes. The agreement includes service details for the collection, recycling, transportation, and disposal of residential solid waste throughout the county. In these services, GFL Environmental transports most solid waste pickup to its landfill in El Dorado and moves recyclable goods to Abilities Unlimited Recycle Center near W. University Street in Magnolia. The contractor also provides some brush pickup services and maintains a fleet of heavy vehicles for its services. 

On Monday, representatives from GFL Environmental were on hand to discuss any preliminary issues with Columbia County officials. GFL Government Contract Manager Mickey Stumbaugh, a former mayor of Cabot and retired Little Rock police officer, stated that he felt his company still provided the county with quality service and that the current route supervisor position was stable. 

“I certainly appreciate the opportunity to service this county and the cities within it,” said Stumbaugh. “I think we do a great job, and we’ve got the landfill right there in El Dorado. Whatever the county decides, I would just as that we can be put on notice.”

Although the discussions Monday were only preliminary in nature, one issue with the contractor was addressed. JP Rick Waller specifically asked Stumbaugh why and how county solid waste containers were being destroyed during pickups. The local official noted that he has witnessed waste disposal trucks crushing the cans when they are grappled, and when a bin breaks, Columbia County has to foot the repair or replacement bill. 

“Those are not cheap,” Waller said. “… I think that’s something that we need to negotiate.

The cost to fully replace a solid waste canister is around $56, according to the county.

Columbia County Judge Denny Foster added his thoughts on the matter as well.

“That is something that we’re going to have to look at to try to build into the next contract,” he said.

Stumbaugh stated that the matter is likely due to a faulty hydraulic setting on the truck, but that is still no excuse.

“That’s something that can be addressed with the drivers,” he said.

The solid waste rep also noted that truck drivers are not easy to find, especially since GFl Enviromental requires a clean background and commercial driver’s license certification.

“It’s very difficult to find someone to pass a drug screening, much less apply for a job these days,” Stumbaugh added.

Waller did say, however, that he has had nothing but good experiences with most GFL Environmental employees. 

JP Oliver Thomas, the Quorum Court’s Solid Waste Committee chairman, was not as complimentary on Monday of the county’s solid waste provider. The local representative stated that he would be open to all options going forward, and did not sound as if he wished to contract with GFL Environmental again. The justice of the peace also felt there would be no shortage of solid waste disposal contractors to interview and research for the county’s next potential deal.

“There are at least 1,000 facilities that we can contact, and we will do that,” said Thomas. “I’ll be looking forward to it.”

If the Columbia County Quorum Court decides not to re-enter into a contract with GFL Environmental, it must inform the solid waste provider of the its intentions 90 days prior to the end of the deal, per the current agreement.

“We have 11 months to ride this (contract) out,” said JP Oliver Thomas, chairman of the Columbia County Quorum Court Solid Waste Committee. “For this kind of money, there’s got to be somebody else out there who can give you (services) for that.”

Although no official date was set for the next meeting of the Columbia County Quorum Court’s Solid Waste Committee to discuss contract negotiations, officials indicated that another gathering would likely be set for the coming weeks.

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