Speak now or forever hold your peace?

Published 10:32 pm Thursday, September 24, 2009

Finally, more than $200 million later, we see the Southeastern Public Service Authority beginning to move with some sense of the gravity of its position as a quasi-governmental entity whose decisions have a huge, if indirect, effect on taxpayers throughout Hampton Roads.

Members of the SPSA board accepted for consideration on Wednesday a proposal from ReEnergy Holdings LLC, which seeks to buy all of the authority’s assets and sign a contract with its member municipalities to dispose of their trash for the next 20 years.

The authority already has a favored offer on the table from Wheelabrator Technologies Inc. for its waste-to-energy incinerator in Portsmouth, so there’s some question whether the ReEnergy proposal ultimately will be significant enough to turn the SPSA board of directors’ attention from that suitor. With SPSA and Wheelabrator walking down the aisle — if not standing at the altar — latecomers seeking to woo the regional waste authority had better boast some pretty keen assets if they hope to be successful in forestalling the marriage.

To torture the metaphor, there’s evidence that ReEnergy didn’t show up at the church wearing its best suit. The company’s proposal left at least as many questions open as it answered, and its officials are hoping to use the period intended for other companies’ responses as an opportunity to expand on their offer. In short, the offer was somewhat underwhelming and, perhaps, underplanned.

Still, the SPSA board showed a level of maturity in this situation that belies its self-imposed debt-ridden condition. Recognizing the potential legal and political ramifications that could spring from an outright rebuff of ReEnergy’s advances, board members have put the proposal on the table for review and for competitive analysis. Staff will have a chance to try to answer the questions put forward by member communities, and other companies will have a chance to put up competing bids.

When they make their decision on ReEnergy’s proposal in a couple of months, SPSA board members cannot be accused of acting rashly and without consideration of the ramifications of their decision. That’s a refreshing change from the authority’s history.

Hampton Roads residents will be eagerly awaiting answers to their questions about both ReEnergy’s and Wheelabrator’s offers. Meanwhile, anyone who was hoping for a quick nuptial will just have to wait a bit.