The decision comes just a week after a proposal to sell the county's Mecham Road landfill to an Arizona waste processor failed to secure enough support among the five supervisors. Only three supervisors agreed to the sale, which as a real estate transaction required four votes.

The panel agreed Tuesday to seek bids on a three-year contract for picking up trash collected at the county's five transfer stations and taking the garbage by truck to East Bay dumps. Currently, the annual cost of the out-of-county trash hauling operation is $14 million. State waste regulators ordered the landfill to begin closure in 2005 because of concerns centering on groundwater contamination.

"I don't know what the hell to do right now," said a frustrated Mike Kerns, whose county supervisorial district includes the Mecham Road facility.

Kerns, along with supervisors Paul Kelley and Valerie Brown, had voted to sell the landfill, but it was blocked when supervisors Shirlee Zane and Efren Carrillo cast no votes.

At the time, county Public Works Director Phil Demery warned that rejecting the landfill sale likely would affect other aspects of countywide garbage collecting because of interlocking contracts among trash companies, the county and the cities that also send their garbage to county-owned transfer stations.

"The contracts expire in August, and if they expire, we will have no place to take our trash," Demery said Tuesday.

Public works officials said the bidding process will take almost four months, leaving little time for subsequent negotiations or clarifications on proposed contracts. North Bay Corp., which hauls most of Sonoma County's trash, is likely to be the major contract contender. But Republic Services, the losing bidder for the landfill, may also be interested, said spokesman Michael Caprio.

Board chairman Paul Kelley said he worried that landfill operators will demand a premium for dumping each load of trash, knowing that the county is desperately searching for a dump site. "I think the landfills will hold us up to significant rate increases," Kelley said. "We (also) have real challenge with the cities on commitment of waste."

Currently, the county is spending $9 million on dumping its trash at out-of-county landfills and $5 million on the cost of North Bay Corp. trucks getting it there. Supervisors acknowledged they have little choice other than to continue the out-haul practice that requires North Bay Corp. to make about 65 truck trips each weekday. Regular garbage trucks take trash to transfer stations where 18-ton trucks move it out of the county.

The landfill sale would have solved the trash transfer problem because Republic Services was proposing to assume responsibility for out-haul until it could obtain state permits for reopening the dump.

Supervisors also agreed Tuesday to put off until Dec. 8 a broader debate on how to respond to the near certainty of a state order to complete dump closure. That threatened order comes as some community leaders are calling for the county to reopen the landfill with institution of guidelines that increase trash diversion into recycling.

You can reach Staff Writer Bleys W. Rose at 521-5431 or