Supreme Court Backs Big Garbage


Joseph Ventenbergs was hauling construction, demolition and land-clearing waste for a handful of contractors in Seattle until 2002 when Rabanco (now under the umbrella of Allied Waste) pushed for a city ordinance putting CDL waste under the category of "city waste." They also asked the city to enforce rules requiring additional licensing for Seattle collectors. Ventenbergs argued that when he obtained his business license, he was not made aware of any additional requirements for city collectors. Rabanco and Waste Management had exclusive contracts to collect all designated city waste.

The city enacted the ordinance Rabanco sought, making CDL part of their collection contract and essentially pushing Ventenbergs out of business. So he sued. The matter made its way up to the state Supreme Court where the justices ruled 6-2 today against Ventenbergs. (Justice Debra Stephens did not participate in the decision.)

Writing for the majority, Justice Bobbe Bridge states that the state Constitution gives municipalities the right to police their ordinances as they see fit. Rabanco and Waste Management had already been given Constitutionally-acceptable city waste collection contracts. Bringing CDL waste under the umbrella of those contracts was permissible, she writes. Bridge concludes her remarks backing the city's right to set garbage policy as it deems necessary with a punt to the state appellate court, which found: "one could hardly imagine an area of regulation that has been considered to be more intrinsically local in nature than collection of garbage and refuse, upon which may rest the health, safety, and aesthetic well-being of the community."

Justice Richard Sanders authored the dissent noting: "The issue here is whether a municipality may constitutionally grant an exclusive franchise to two corporations to haul [CDL] debris while categorically denying like privilege to all others." Sanders says not only is that a problem with the state Constitution, it falls afoul of the vision of founding fathers like Alexander Hamilton.

But while this is a blow for Ventenbergs, other small waste collectors have made inroads into the lucrative business of city waste collection. Nina Shaprio told the story of Chris Martin, a garbage man committed to making garbage more green and his bid for a city contract. He won a $20 million deal last October.

Of course today Houston-based Waste Management announced that it had just received a new 10-year contract for Seattle garbage collection that expands its current residential service by 28 percent and commercial collection by 73 percent.

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