With the odometer ticking over 100,000 miles – or, in the case of the West Plains Waste-to-Energy plant, 20 years – the time has come to either invest in continued maintenance or look at an upgraded model.
But, as Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke deadpanned on Tuesday, “there is no trade-in value” for the trash incinerator, which is up for a renewed operations contract.
The plant, which is operated by Waste Management subsidiary Wheelabrator, was constructed two decades ago and is supervised by the Spokane Regional Solid Waste System, overseen by the city of Spokane. For years, however, Spokane County government officials along with those of other jurisdictions have stated that there should be a more regional governance approach, such as at the Spokane Regional Health District or Spokane Transit Authority.
On Monday, the Spokane City Council agreed 6-1 to continue to have Wheelabrator operate the facility for $25 million for the next three years. During that time, should county commissioners agree to that plan, it’s possible a new regional governance structure could be put in place.
Spokane city officials were in talks for a longer contract, possibly 20 years, but conceded to reduce that duration to address commissioners’ concerns.
On Tuesday, the commissioners followed up with a meeting with Russ Menke, acting director of SRSWS, to get the answers to some of their questions regarding the contract and the $15 million in upgrades and improvements that has been negotiated with Wheelabrator.
“We have to weigh that the continued contract is consistent with the life of the facility,” said Commissioner Mark Richard.
The commissioners quizzed the company’s engineers on what work needed to be done and how soon. They also wanted cost estimates. Improvements to the facility’s water walls, the highest priority, could run as much as $8 million. Other costs include $800,000 for a steam turbine, $2 million for superheating equipment and another $1.5 million for the electronic control system.
All are deemed to be needed improvements – except for another $400,000 or so for painting, which is more cosmetic – to keep the facility running, engineers said. If the plant shuts down for any length of time, revenue generated from electricity production is lost.
“If you’re down you’re not getting revenue,” said Don Castro, consulting engineer, who added that the improvements are necessary to stop a potential “downward spiral” of future problems at the burn plant.
County officials have proposed a “garbage summit” where local leaders of various jurisdictions can sit down and discuss a regional governance approach. The city is hoping the county will sign off on the new three-year contract within the next month.
The summit is scheduled for Feb. 2-3 at CenterPlace.