A Bozeman-based residential garbage disposal service, L&L Site Services, is once again asking the state government to allow it to compete with Republic Services, the only garbage disposal company in Missoula.
The Montana Civil Service Commission began a week-long hearing on the matter on Monday.
Republic Services, one of the largest companies in the country, has a monopoly on the service in Missoula County and owns the landfill.
Lance Johnson, the owner of L&L Site Services, wants to compete with Missoula and says his company can offer lower prices and improved services. Under Montana law, trucking companies that provide a public service and use public roads, such as taxi providers and garbage haulers, are allowed to have a monopoly in certain communities, unless a competitor cannot prove that there is a demonstrable need and that they can improve the service.
The five-member commission will now decide whether Missoula would be better served by the competition.
L&L Site Services was first refused a “certificate of public utility and necessity” by the PSC in 2018. Now has several different members.
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Johnson said since his request was denied in 2019, the pandemic and population growth have changed conditions in Missoula County. He thinks people generate more waste in private residences since they are now working from home.
“I think I can bring a competitive and fair price and better service to the area that Missoula needs,” Johnson said.
Johnson is represented by Missoula attorney Quentin Rhoades and Republic Services is represented by Holland & Hart attorney Bill Mercer. Billings-based Mercer is a former US attorney from Montana and previously represented global investment firm Carlyle in its unsuccessful attempt to stop the city of Missoula from taking over the municipal water system.
In his opening statement, Mercer said the city and county are committed to significantly increasing recycling and reducing the amount of waste produced by the community. Republic Services has been a long-standing player in the market and has worked with the city and county to achieve these goals, he added.
“And you will hear from witnesses during this hearing that in the event that another entrant is authorized in the market, there will be a destabilizing effect which will undermine these objectives and limit the ability of the incumbent to continue to deliver on its promises. what he brought to the city of Missoula and the county of Missoula, ”said Mercer.
Mercer also claimed that L&L failed to prove a demonstrable need the last time around.
“It’s Yogi Berra,” he said. “It’s already seen. Nothing has changed. We were here before the commission in 2018 and we were here on an identical request. And that was ultimately refused by the commission because there had been no demonstration of public need. “
Republic Services offered recycling services in Missoula at a reasonable cost, Mercer said.
“And you’ll hear proof of how L&L performed in that same function in County Gallatin,” Mercer said. “And we think that’s a substantial, albeit unregulated, reason to ensure that this market is not disrupted.”
Mercer noted that the government of Missoula provides many services and “does not hesitate to provide services where it sees the need.” He pointed out that the city chose to take over the water system but made no effort to take over the municipal garbage removal service.
“And that clearly reflects the community’s satisfaction with Republic,” he said.
Two witnesses called by lawyers for L&L Site Services said they were not satisfied with the service or prices provided by Republic Services.
Carl Brien showed two bills for his residential service. The first invoice for October 2019 showed a 95 gallon garbage container service costing $ 96.59 per quarter. A second invoice from January 2021 showed the cost had risen to $ 108.52. However, given that Republic Services’ “fuel salvage costs” had declined over that time, Brien’s total bill was actually six dollars less in 2021.
But Brien testified that he was very unhappy with the amount the Republic charges for recycling, which was around $ 53 each quarter. Brien also said he often had to wait a long time with the company for customer service, and sometimes the company missed a pickup.
Jay Sheldon, manager of a self-storage business in Missoula, said he was not happy with the amount of trash dumped from the dumpster when picked up. He thinks competition would improve the service.
“Home Depot and Lowes are right across from each other,” he said. “I have six competitors within a mile of me. Competition breeds innovation. I think I would get a better price with the competition, and while it’s not a better price, it could be better service. “
“The Republic Services are not providing bad service, but it could be better,” he said.
Johnson said his company would haul the trash to Helena’s landfill because Republic Services said it wouldn’t allow him to dump trash at the Missoula landfill. Johnson’s attorneys showed a slide showing L&L Site Services expects net income of $ 480,000 in its first year of operation in Missoula and net income of $ 826,000 in its second year. operating even after payroll and all other expenses.
Chad Bauer, director of Republic Services, said the company would not comment at this time. The hearing is scheduled to continue through Friday in Room 152 of the Education Building on the University of Montana campus.