Though the company has gained ground in other areas of the state, winning four contracts in one year, it has had less luck breaking into its home county, where it's involved in a battle over Sarasota's waste-hauling contract that could take years to resolve.
In May 2002, a local television station taped employees of Waste Management Inc. (WMI), the county's current waste-services provider, illegally throwing used motor oil into the back of a truck with other trash.
The footage set off a firestorm of complaints from the public, leading the county to send the waste-services contract out to bid -- the first time it had done so in 20 years.
In January, an independent committee recommended that the County Commission accept WMI's bid to haul the trash for $300 million over 15 years. That sparked another backlash from the community when it was revealed that Fort Lauderdale-based Republic Services and Onyx would have done the job for millions less -- some $930,000 less a year in Onyx's case.
The committee's choice "shows that Waste Management has undue influence in Sarasota," says Glenn Compton of ManaSota-88, a local environmental activist group.
Republic and Onyx appealed the committee's recommendation, complaining that the committee didn't consider the oil-dumping incident and that the county did not follow its own rules in weighing the seven criteria used in making its decision.
Jim Ley, the county's administrator, defends the criteria used but recommended in February that county commissioners throw out the bid and start over. The County Commission voted 5-0 to do so. "This is the first time we had done this in 20 years," Ley says. "We could have done a better job at engaging the community."
That decision, however, prompted a lawsuit by WMI, which is asking a judge to force the commission to stick with the committee's original recommendation. The company questions the "legality and morality" of changing the bid process and says that a rebid is unfair.
Ley says the county will conduct a new bid process despite the lawsuit, which could take years to wind through the courts. "Nothing that Waste Management has done will keep us from doing our jobs," he says.
Meanwhile, WMI continues to pick up the garbage under the terms of a previous contract that was extended through April 2004. Onyx executives decline comment, saying only that they will continue to try to expand in Florida and will bid again on the Sarasota contract.
IN THE NEWS
Fort Myers -- Southwest Florida International Airport's new $386-million Midfield Terminal Complex will cost an additional $52 million because of security equipment mandated by the Transportation Security Administration. The terminal will have 25 gates and is expected to open in 2005.
Manatee County -- FPL Group plans to add a 1,107-megawatt unit to its Parrish plant in Manatee County as part of a $1.1-billion project that also includes adding a 789-megawatt unit at its Indiantown plant in Martin County. Construction will begin this summer and is expected to end in 2005.
Naples -- Developer Phil McCabe plans to build a $20-million gated condominium community called Botanical Place on Bayshore Drive with condo prices from $150,000 to $250,000.
Palmetto -- Troubled Regal Cruises has shut down operations at Port Manatee after a deal to sell the cruise line fell apart. The operation was the port's only cruise business. Officials say the port, which is owed $300,000, will lose about $500,000 a year because of the closing.
Palm Harbor -- Residents of the 182-unit Nature's Watch townhouse community will have to pay $92,000 each to repair homes ruined by water damage over the years. Homeowners say the damage is the result of shoddy construction, and the homeowners association is suing the developer, builder and engineer. The cost of repairs almost equals what some homeowners paid for their homes. Twelve homeowners are facing foreclosure, and 66 have had liens placed on their homes.
Pasco County -- Developers of a new downtown in Pasco County's New River Township are replacing a 130-acre golf course with a park and a mixed-use development that calls for 4,800 homes, 560,000 square feet of retail space and 120,000 square feet of office space.
Pasco County is the 100th-fastest-growing county in the U.S. (out of 3,141 counties), according to the Census Bureau. Between July 2001 and July 2002, Pasco's population grew 3.5% to 371,245.
Pinellas County -- Pinellas County plans to replace 140 miles of aging iron water pipes, costing $31 million. County scientists fear that water from the new desalination plant will wear away more than 30 years' worth of minerals, such as calcium and iron, in the older pipes, affecting water quality.
The U.S. Department of Labor has selected the county as the site of Florida's fifth Job Corps Center, which will provide academic and vocational training, as well as high school and general equivalency diploma programs, to more than 550 students a year.
St. Petersburg -- Republic Bank, a subsidiary of Republic Bancshares (Nasdaq-REPB), is moving out of the downtown building bearing its name. It will occupy 33,000 square feet in the First Central Tower just a few blocks away.
Tampa -- Mayor Pam Iorio is pushing for a 2004 referendum that would allow the county to raise taxes for transportation projects, including pedestrian paths and bicycle lanes. Iorio also wants to add a light rail system. Area leaders have recommended raising taxes half a cent.
The National Cancer Institute awarded a $3.1-million grant to Dr. Gerold Bepler, a cancer researcher at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute. Bepler is trying to create a pill to prevent lung cancer.
USF PICKS NEW ST. PETERSBURG LEADER
ST. PETERSBURG -- Karen White has been named campus executive officer at the University of South Florida's St. Petersburg campus. White, a former dean at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, will take over July 1. She replaces Bill Heller, who was asked to resign last August after 10 years at the helm.