Omaha reaches tentative $2 million deal on recycling for 2020; 2021 still up in air

Omaha recycling should continue uninterrupted after the city and the company that processes its recycling struck a short-term deal.

The City Council expects to vote next month on a deal for 2020 that amends the final year of the city’s contract with local processor Firstar Fiber.

Council members Chris Jerram and Pete Festersen of central Omaha said last week that they feared curbside recycling could be interrupted if Firstar Fiber walked away from its current contract.

Mayor Jean Stothert has said the negotiations won’t interrupt service. On Tuesday, she called the new deal “affordable and fair to our taxpayers.”

Firstar has argued that it’s losing money on the city contract, which runs through 2020. It was signed before international markets for recycling crashed.

Stothert and the Public Works Department tried to address those concerns by paying more in 2019 and seeking bids for the next contract months earlier than planned.

She directed Public Works to put the contract out for bid again with a longer term, 10 years or more, early next year, in hopes of attracting more bidders at a lower cost.

Under the terms of the short-term deal the city announced Tuesday, Omaha would pay Firstar about $2 million to process recycling in 2020.

On dry-weather days, it would pay the same $110 per ton Firstar charges many of its business customers. On wet-weather days, the city would pay Firstar a higher rate, $143 per ton of recycled material, officials said.

The reason: The city acknowledges that Omaha’s open green recycling bins allow the materials to get wet on rainy or snowy days, which risks contaminating the items. The city’s next trash contract includes covered recycling bins, to address this problem and neighborhood litter.

Omaha would pay Firstar more on days when the city’s trash hauler takes longer than usual to pick up recycling and forces Firstar to staff additional hours at its sorting plant. The city also would chip in more to maintain neighborhood drop-off sites when they get overrun by illegal dumping, said Jim Theiler, assistant director of the Public Works Department.

The new deal for 2020 would end once Omaha picks a bidder and signs its next contract to process recycling.

Firstar’s owner, Dale Gubbels, called the new deal “a relief” but said the city needs to make a decision soon on 2021 because, if his company secures the bid, he needs time to scale up his facility to handle the increased demand from larger recycling carts.

“We didn’t relish having to be in this position or having the city in this position,” he said. “But it’s things outside of our control.”

Council member Brinker Harding, who serves parts of west Omaha, said Tuesday that he was glad to see a short-term deal but wants to read it himself.

“The devil is in the details,” he said.


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