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Costa Mesa Sanitary District to study sticking points in trash contract talks with CR&R

With contract negotiations at an impasse, Costa Mesa Sanitary District board members decided Thursday to further study the sticking points before deciding how to proceed with CR&R Environmental Services, the district’s trash hauler.

Though several items have been hashed out since the district opened contract renegotiation talks with CR&R in February, several disagreements have kept a deal from being struck.

Probably the most contentious item, according to sanitary district General Manager Scott Carroll, is the district’s organics recycling program.

Under that program, which began in 2015, CR&R collects waste such as garden clippings and food scraps and converts them to renewable natural gas at an anaerobic digestion facility in Perris.

Carroll said the sanitary district was the first agency in Orange County to commit to that facility and, as a result, negotiated a clause in its contract to guarantee it would receive the lowest anaerobic digestion fee in the county.

Should CR&R negotiate a lower rate elsewhere, the sanitary district would receive the cheaper fee, the contract states.

Currently, the sanitary district is charged $71.50 a ton for organics. However, Carroll said CR&R appears to be providing the program in Stanton at no additional cost to that city’s residents.

“We believe Stanton is getting their organics recycling program at no cost,” Carroll said Thursday. “Are we entitled to that as well?”

Dean Ruffridge, a senior vice president with CR&R, told the sanitary district board that’s not the case.

“Nothing is for free in this world — we all know that,” he said. “We never negotiated a lower rate with Stanton for the conversion technology.”

According to board documents, CR&R has told the district the charge associated with the program in Stanton is $87.50 a ton.

However, Carroll said the sanitary district has not been able to confirm that. In an email Friday, Ruffridge declined to elaborate on the issue.

Carroll said he offered to accept a rate of $55.50 a ton for three years, which could save the district more than $450,000 over that time.

CR&R rebuffed that idea, he said.

Board members said Thursday that they would like more time to study the issue.

“We’ve been telling people all along that we were getting a favored rate, and I, for one, would like them to cooperate with that and stand by what they said they’d do,” board Vice President Jim Ferryman said of CR&R. “I’m not sure they’re getting there from what I’m reading here.”

Ruffridge told the board, “You do have the most favored price and you always will have that.”

The board asked staff — including legal counsel — to look into the matter and return with additional information at a future study session.

The district has contracted with CR&R to collect residential trash since 2006 and pays the hauler about $4.1 million a year for services such as curbside and bulky-item pickup and green waste recycling.

That annual payment is based on how much trash is collected and how many residences are served.

While some issues still need to be ironed out, sanitary district staff and CR&R have agreed on several points in a potential new contact, such as scrapping an “evergreen” clause that essentially required the district to provide six years’ notice before canceling the pact.

Both parties have agreed to a fixed term limit of 10 years, with two five-year extension options.

The parties also have hammered out a districtwide door-to-door household hazardous waste collection program that would give ratepayers three pickups per year.

CR&R also has agreed to hold an annual free mulch event for residents and to stage a comprehensive outreach program to help the sanitary district meet its target of diverting 75% of its waste stream from landfills by 2020.

luke.money@latimes.com

Twitter @LukeMMoney

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