Public silent on increased fees

Published 10:04 pm Thursday, April 9, 2009

Not a single person came forward to protest increased tipping fees during a Southeastern Public Service Authority public hearing on Thursday.

The authority is considering raising the fee that six member communities pay to dump their trash. The current tipping fee for those six – Franklin, Southampton County, Isle of Wight County, Portsmouth, Chesapeake and Norfolk – is $104 per ton. Suffolk pays no tipping fees in exchange for hosting the regional landfill, and Virginia Beach’s fees are capped at $53.88 in exchange for its participation.

The proposed tipping fee is $245 per ton, which would make it the highest such charge in the nation. However, a plan proposed by the chief administrative officers of the eight member communities would necessitate raising the fee to only $170 per ton, because extra money would be generated through the sale of the waste-to-energy plant and other measures. The plan, however, is meant to last only through June 2010.

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SPSA has a meeting scheduled with the Virginia Resources Authority, SPSA’s largest creditor, next week. VRA officials have to approve or deny the proposal. SPSA plans to vote on some version of a tipping fee increase at its April 22 meeting.

After the public hearing, the SPSA board discussed a proposal by ReEnergy Holdings, LLC, to privatize the region’s waste disposal. ReEnergy Executive Officer Larry D. Richardson encouraged SPSA once again to sell ReEnergy the system. ReEnergy’s proposition includes a purchase price of approximately $205 million for all SPSA assets, including the regional landfill in Suffolk.

ReEnergy would form new long-term waste services agreements with all member communities, with a fixed tipping fee that would escalate based on published indices. The agreements, ReEnergy says, would provide stable, predictable solid waste management services for 20 years, and would be structured to encourage increased recycling.

Six of SPSA’s eight member communities, including Suffolk, have formally expressed interest in learning more about ReEnergy’s plan. Suffolk passed a resolution in February instructing SPSA officials to open their records and facilities to ReEnergy – and any other potential bidders – so that they can formulate their proposals. ReEnergy also wants access to certain staff members, particularly management, to gain more information about the authority’s operating process.

Richardson says ReEnergy has not seen the openness from SPSA that it would like. SPSA board members, however, countered during the meeting that because SPSA is a public entity, its records are open to anyone through the Freedom of Information Act. In addition, ReEnergy is free to schedule a tour of the facilities, said Board Chairman Donald Williams.

“All they have to do is request it and it’s theirs,” Williams said.

Some SPSA board members suggested that ReEnergy should pay for access to staff members, as companies Covanta and Wheelabrator have done in the process of bidding to purchase the waste-to-energy plant.

“Just the consideration of this application is dangerous,” said board member Michael Barrett.

At the end of the discussion, a vote on allowing ReEnergy free access to staff members failed.