SPSA to pay city’s sewer fee

Published 10:02 pm Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Southeastern Public Service Authority on Wednesday acquiesced to Suffolk’s request to be paid for sewer fees the city recently started charging.

The dispute arose in April, when the city discovered that the regional trash authority, among other industrial customers, was not being charged for sewer service at the landfill.

The authority disagreed that it owed the money and accrued more than $21,000 in arrears as of August, when the issue first came up at SPSA’s board meeting. The fees would cost the authority — and therefore all eight of its member communities — about $100,000 a year.

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The fees are for transporting leachate — liquid, mostly rainwater, that has been contaminated by flowing through the pile of decaying trash — from the landfill to Hampton Roads Sanitation District’s wastewater treatment facilities. SPSA financed and built a two-mile main to transport the wastewater in the 1980s, and then conveyed it to the city at no charge except for a reimbursement for increasing the capacity of the line at the city’s request.

Deputy City Manager Patrick Roberts said failing to charge the fee for more than two decades was an oversight. SPSA attorney Trey Huelsberg contended sewer fees were not addressed in an agreement pertaining to the transmission main, so they were not owed.

Because the Hampton Roads Sanitation District bills jointly for both wastewater treatment and Suffolk’s sewer fees and will not separate the bills, not paying the sewer fee means defaulting on its HRSD, bill as well. Huelsberg said this month that HRSD has threatened the suspension or revocation of the authority’s wastewater permit if the bill isn’t paid.

Chairman Marley Woodall, who represents Chesapeake on the board, last month asked the city to get together with SPSA staff to discuss the issue.

Deputy City Manager Patrick Roberts said at this month’s board meeting that the discussions took place but didn’t change where each party stood.

Woodall broached the topic of litigation but said he believed a lawsuit would be expensive and distract from the work of preparing the authority for 2018, when the use and support agreements with each of the member communities expire.

John Barnes, who represents Virginia Beach on the board, said it’s common for new technology to help pinpoint errors in billing.

“It’s certainly easy to see how that could come about,” he said.

After Roberts assured the board that the city would not ask to be paid for fees previous to April of this year, the board voted in favor of paying the sewer fees.

Everett Williams Jr. and Taylor Williams IV, of Franklin, and William Sorrentino Jr. of Virginia Beach were the only three to vote against paying the fees.