by DOUG NADVORNICK & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & M & lt;/span & ike Noder won't be elected Spokane's next mayor -- he didn't finish in the top two in this week's primary -- but he's getting a gift that may please him even more: an independent audit of the Spokane Regional Solid Waste System, including the Waste-to-Energy plant.

Both the county commissioners and the Spokane City Council, responding to allegations by Noder and fellow solid waste system critic Craig Sullivan, are calling for a private firm, as yet unknown, to look into the system's spending and performance. Last Thursday at a meeting of the county's Solid Waste Advisory Committee (SWAC), Commissioner Mark Richard said he's preparing a formal audit request. And later that same day, city councilmembers and administrators, during their weekly briefing session, agreed there's a need to look at the system's books and practices.

"Let's get this behind us," said acting Public Works Director Dave Mandyke. "I'm tired of hearing all the allegations." He asked councilmembers for a specific proposal that he could use to hire a private auditing firm.

"This is what we want," responds Sullivan, who, on his Spokane Waste of Energy Website, alleges the city and solid waste system have wasted millions of dollars in taxpayer money since the incinerator opened in 1991, in part by not enforcing contracts with Wheelabrator, the company that operates the trash burner. He and Noder say the system is losing money despite a $98 tipping fee that is one of the highest in the nation. And they complain that it has been difficult to get financial information from solid waste officials.

"Where are we with this?" wonders Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin. "We need to know about any financial questions before we consider any potential changes to the system."

The changes to which McLaughlin refers revolve around 2011, when the bonds that financed the project will be fully paid, when all the system's operating contracts expire and when the first of the agreements with local cities that use the solid waste system expire.

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