Council: SPSA should provide access

Published 10:13 pm Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Suffolk City Council voted on Wednesday to direct the Southeastern Public Service Authority to provide access to companies offering to buy the authority, which is mired in about $240 million in debt.

New York-based ReEnergy Holdings has proposed a purchase of the authority, at a price that would be sufficient to retire most, if not all, of SPSA’s debt. The company proposes striking new member agreements with all eight member communities – Suffolk, Franklin, Southampton County, Isle of Wight County, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Norfolk and Virginia Beach – to dispose of trash and provide recycling.

ReEnergy officials, however, told council members two weeks ago that SPSA has not been forthcoming with its records. Therefore, ReEnergy cannot make an accurate estimation of what it would take to run the region’s trash disposal because it does not know how much trash comes into the landfill.

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Council’s resolution says that SPSA should provide ReEnergy and any other company proposing to buy SPSA, or any of its assets with access to documents, information, individuals and sites to allow the companies to conduct a reasonable review of the authority’s assets, operations and finances.

In Council’s work session earlier in the evening, members received advice from their financial advisor, David Rose of Davenport & Co., regarding SPSA. Rose delivered the news that the Virginia Resources Authority, SPSA’s largest creditor, has “officially offered their willingness to help” restructure SPSA’s debt, in an effort to keep the authority solvent. SPSA officials have warned that the authority is quickly running out of money, and could do so by the end of June unless the tipping fee is raised. The fee, which is the amount communities pay to dispose of their trash in the Suffolk landfill, is up for a vote April 8, to increase it from $104 per ton to $245 per ton. An affirmative vote on that measure would make it the highest such fee in the nation.

Rose also warned City Council that if SPSA defaults on its loans, the member communities could be held liable. The VRA is looking for the “full faith and credit” of the member communities, excluding Southampton County, behind SPSA’s debt. Southampton County would need a referendum of voters to extend its full faith and credit, and there is no time for that, Rose said.

City Councilman Charles Parr requested that a letter from Gov. Timothy Kaine be read into the record. The letter expresses the governor’s concern that a SPSA default could potentially affect the commonwealth’s bond rating, in addition to that of the member communities. In addition, Kaine indicated he might have to reconsider his support for a bill currently in the legislature that would raise the VRA’s debt ceiling, in light of the SPSA debacle.