SPSA rejects buyout offer

Published 11:16 pm Thursday, January 8, 2009

The board of the Southeastern Public Service Authority has rejected a proposal from a New York company to buy the beleaguered authority and privatize its services. The decision was made without any public hearing or public vote.

“At this point, there are other issues beyond SPSA’s control,” said Tony Thiel, SPSA’s lawyer.

ReEnergy Holdings LLC proposed the $205 million buyout as a way for SPSA to retire its $240 million debt and avoid acquiring more. The purchase would have required all member communities to sign new 20-year agreements with ReEnergy to cooperate on solid waste disposal.

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SPSA, which is facing escalating debt, exorbitant tipping fees and a “sunset date” of 2018, declined the offer, saying the board had several concerns about the preservation of competition in the region.

“A sale of all of SPSA’s assets to your company will leave the localities with only one solid waste disposal option in the region,” the letter says.

The proposal, if accepted, also would have conflicted with current negotiations for the sale of the waste-to-energy facilities. The board believes sales of those assets will allow the waste authority to pay off debt while privatizing in a manner consistent with their plan.

A third reason for not entertaining the proposal was the new waste services agreements the sale would require, the letter says. The proposal is contingent on each member’s terminating its existing agreement with SPSA and entering into a new agreement with ReEnergy.

“Because of the scope and complexity of these required agreements from SPSA’s members, it would be premature for SPSA to respond to your proposal without firm commitments from each member addressing these issues,” the letter says.

According to ReEnergy, the move would reduce tipping fees – SPSA’s are now among the highest in the nation – and establish a fixed tipping fee. SPSA voted Wednesday to hold a public hearing on Jan. 28 on raising the tipping fee to $245 per ton, the highest such fee in the United States.

That fee would be paid by six of SPSA’s eight member localities in South Hampton Roads. Based on agreements made when the organization formed, Suffolk pays nothing to dispose of its trash in exchange for hosting the Authority’s landfill; Virginia Beach pays a capped rate that would equate to less than a fourth of the new per-ton disposal rate.