South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Judge rules in favor of haulers in lawsuit over trash districts

Stenger to oppose proposal to transfer contracts to Allied.

St. Louis County breached an implied contract with waste haulers when it neglected to notify them of its forthcoming trash district program, a county circuit judge ruled last week.

Judge Barbara Wallace on Sept. 23 ruled in favor of three haulers that sued the county in 2008 over its failure to provide two years’ notice before establishing trash districts in unincorporated areas.

The haulers — American Eagle Waste Industries, Meridian Waste Services and Waste Management of Missouri — did not win contracts to serve the eight districts exclusively and are prohibited from offering service in those areas under county ordinance.

The contracts were awarded through competitive bidding in 2008 to Allied Services, IESI and Veolia Environmental Services.

In their suit, American Eagle Waste, Meridian and Waste Management cite a 2007 Missouri statute, which states political subdivisions “shall notify the private entity or entities of its intent to provide solid-waste collection services in the area by certified mail.” Trash-collection services cannot begin until at least two years after the date of notification, according to the statute.

“We knew that the county broke the law, and that’s why we challenged it in court,” American Eagle Waste owner Bryan Barcom told the Call last week, after Wallace handed down the ruling. “We knew that we had a fighting chance to get this rectified.”

The circuit court’s decision is a victory for both trash haulers and unincorporated residents, but it also should send a message to county officials, Barcom said.

“You have to follow the law,” he said, “and you can’t jeopardize people’s lives and businesses for the sake of your political or monetary gains.”

Wallace’s ruling states, “Plaintiffs are not … challenging the validity of the county’s trash collection program; rather, plaintiffs claim the county improperly began waste collection throughout St. Louis County without providing notice to them … thereby entitling them to statutory damages.”

Barcom said his company lost more than 13,000 households when the trash district program began in 2008. He wasn’t sure exactly how much money his company is owed in damages but contended the haulers’ lawsuit could cost the county “millions, and it might cost tens of millions when it’s all said and done.”

County Counselor Patricia Redington told the Call the county would appeal Wallace’s decision once the judge determines what damages, if any, are owed the haulers.

“This was always a case that was going to be decided in the appellate court,” Redington said. “In the long run, this is just an interim decision.”

Asked if there was an estimate of damages owed to the haulers, Redington said, “The measure of any damages is the value of goods or services they provide you. I don’t know what they’ve provided us. We’ve asked them what their damages are, but two years into the lawsuit they still haven’t given us that information.”

In related news, 6th District Council Vice Chair Steve Stenger, D-south county, says he will vote “loud and clear” against a request by Veolia to transfer its three trash-district contracts to Allied by Oct. 1.

The County Council was scheduled to consider the proposal when it met Tuesday evening — after the Call went to press.

Veolia is selling its assets and operations throughout the region. It wants to transfer to Allied its contracts for District 3 in north-central county, District 4 in four separate parts of southwest county along the Meramec River and District 7 in Concord.

Allied currently owns contracts for District 5 in Affton and District 6 in Lemay.

Under the terms of the new assignments, Allied would be “fully obligated to perform all of Veolia’s service obligations” in the trash district contracts until they expire next year and “will not increase any charges for those services,” according to Rebecca Howe, the county’s director of procurement.

But Stenger says he would prefer Veolia’s contracts be put out for bid rather than simply be given to Allied. He also questions the manner in which the proposal was presented to the council.

“We have a contract with Veolia, so I think we need to hold Veolia’s feet to the fire and put this out to a competitive bid in the event that Veolia can’t do it. So that’s why I’m voting ‘no,'” Stenger told the Call, adding, “This should be presented in the form of legislation. The public should have an opportunity to be heard on it and it should go through the oversight process.”

Garry Earls, the county’s chief operating officer, said the administration is seeking the council’s approval of the transfer through a standard order, not legislation, because the matter is not an ordinance. He said there was no time to put Veolia’s contracts out for bid as the process can take months.

He told the Call Monday officials were putting together a “contingency plan” in case the council turned down Veolia’s request Tuesday.

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