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For the first time in a generation, new hands should haul away garbage and recycling in Minneapolis, the City Council decided Friday.

Now it's keeping its fingers crossed that the decision won't wind up in court.

The council awarded the rights to serve 21,566 households in southwest Minneapolis to Aspen Waste, starting Feb. 1. That comes at the expense of Minneapolis Refuse Inc., a 14-hauler consortium that has hauled garbage in Minneapolis since 1972. MRI will keep the rights to 30,378 households. City crews serve the remaining half of the city.

Aspen got part of the business because it underpriced MRI by about 40 cents per month per household. But MRI keeps most of its households nevertheless because one of the criteria set in state law governing the organizing of trash collection is to minimize displacement of haulers.

Some council members hesitate to cut MRI's business because garbage collection is one of the city's highest rated services in resident surveys.

"We certainly understand the need to do as well a job as what MRI has done in the past," said Marvin Vikla, Aspen's general manager.

The 12-1 council decision follows a lengthy process that began in 2006 when a split council voted to seek competitive proposals for the trash-hauling contract. That was a first since the city originally arranged with MRI to haul garbage in 1972 after the state banned back-yard burning.

But the council's move toward competition for trash business has been slowed by MRI's legal challenges. The city wanted to bypass a state law that it argued was enacted to apply when cities initially converted collection from open hauling to organized routes. But a judge agreed with MRI that the city had to follow a lengthy consultative process in that law even to seek competing proposals. One of the criteria set in that law is minimizing loss of business for existing haulers.

The council action requires two guarantees from Aspen and MRI -- they have to agree to a no-strike clause so collection isn't interrupted and they must agree not to sue under the state law governing how collection may be organized.

The city is trying to ward off another potential legal challenge by MRI under that law. The council said that if MRI won't waive such a challenge, Aspen will win all 52,000 households. The council set a Nov. 5 deadline for a response.

MRI haulers plan to meet on Thursday. Chairman Greg Burt said they will be looking at all options. Its haulers decry losing 41 percent of their household stops.

Aspen will need to add six packer trucks and five recycling trucks to handle the increase in its business.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438