SPSA develops strategic plan

Published 10:37 pm Thursday, October 28, 2010

Priorities for the region’s trash authority during the next five years include lowering the tipping fee, establishing more stringent financial policies and determining whether the agency should continue to exist after 2018.

The Southeastern Public Service Authority board of directors took a portion of its Wednesday meeting to discuss its strategic plan, which is required under Virginia law. The board also wants the authority to apply for a Department of Environmental Quality permit for Cell 7 at the Suffolk landfill — even though officials have said they do not expect that space to be needed.

The authority initially projected the additional cell would not be needed at all. Since the private company Wheelabrator took over operation of the waste-to-energy plant in Portsmouth and began shipping all the trash it can’t burn to a separate landfill, incoming trash has slowed dramatically at the regional landfill in Suffolk.

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“If everything goes well, they keep operating the plant and everything is rosy, everything will be fine,” executive director Rowland “Bucky” Taylor said. “However, if anything happens, we have to have someplace to dispose of the region’s trash. You don’t just go out and get a permit overnight.”

The priorities listed in the strategic plan were developed during the board’s retreat this summer, Taylor said.

“The topics that were brought out in the retreat ended up being the primary topics in the strategic plan,” he said.

Another top priority — reducing the municipal tipping fee — already is a step closer to reality. A public hearing is set for Dec. 8 on the topic of reducing it to $145 per ton, from its current level of $150. The change is expected to save the communities that pay tipping fees about $600,000 collectively during the course of a year.

Suffolk pays no tipping fees in exchange for hosting the landfill.

The goals also include a provision for the agency to continue looking for opportunities to privatize services, as it did when it handed over operations of the Portsmouth plant to Wheelabrator.

“We’ll be looking at ‘Is it advantageous for SPSA to contract operating the landfill,’ for example, or transportation costs or repair of vehicles and equipment,” Taylor said. “Not only can it be done by somebody else, but is it beneficial to the organization.”

The authority also aims to obtain the member communities’ views on continuing SPSA past its contractual sunset date of Jan. 24, 2018.

The eight member communities that cooperate in the authority are Suffolk, Franklin, Southampton County, Isle of Wight County, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Norfolk and Virginia Beach.