Don’t give in on SPSA

Published 12:18 am Saturday, October 29, 2011

There must have been someone in Hampton Roads who was sitting around wondering what a consultant would suggest about the future of the Southeastern Public Service Authority.

It might be hard to imagine, but, statistically speaking, there has to be at least one person who hasn’t heard the din of complaints about Suffolk’s so-called “sweetheart deal” with the regional waste collection authority. Surely there’s someone in Portsmouth or Virginia Beach who hasn’t heard just how mercilessly those sneaky people in Suffolk took advantage of the naïve folks of Norfolk, Chesapeake and the rest of Hampton Roads way back in the ‘70s, when the SPSA partnership agreements were reached.

That’s when Suffolk’s leaders must have hatched the plan to take advantage of the rest of Hampton Roads by setting aside hundreds of acres of the city’s best highway frontage for a dirty, smelly landfill that would scar Suffolk’s landscape forever, require constant monitoring for decades and cause a stink that would literally drive people from their homes. It was a small sacrifice to make, they must have concluded, for free dumping at the new regional landfill.

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At least, that’s how Suffolk’s partners in SPSA have portrayed things in recent years. And they’ve been so vocal about painting themselves as victims it comes as little surprise that a consultant hired to suggest a post-SPSA solid waste plan for the region would suggest Suffolk not only should continue to host the landfill but also should pay for the privilege.

The Authority’s board of directors heard this week that Suffolk should host the landfill in return for a token payment, that the city should pay the same tipping fees as other members and that it should lose its equal standing on the board. Under the consultant’s recommendation, representation on the board that makes decisions about the landfill in Suffolk would be apportioned based on population, a scheme that would give Suffolk less representation on the board, despite having the most at stake.

Clearly, the rest of Hampton Roads has little understanding of what Suffolk has given up in order to host the regional landfill. The city must make it clear that it will not be bullied into a harmful agreement based on a smaller population and tax base than its SPSA partners to the east. In fact, Suffolk’s participation is a vital piece of the future SPSA puzzle, and city officials should use that leverage to ensure the city is treated fairly and equitably in any discussions about the future of solid waste disposal in Hampton Roads.

Absent that fair and equitable treatment, Suffolk should be prepared to walk away from the regional organization. Otherwise, the city risks giving control of another valuable resource — this time, land instead of water — to its sister cities in Hampton Roads.