Approve host agreement

Published 8:12 pm Saturday, April 16, 2016

There’s a sense of vindictiveness that’s very hard to miss during discussions about the future of the Southeastern Public Service Authority.

Suffolk’s partners in the organization charged with managing the region’s solid waste disposal have long tasted the bile of resentment at the thought of Suffolk getting what they portray as a free ride in regards to residential trash disposal since the authority’s waste-disposal agreement was signed in 1979.

Of course, those portrayals tend to place heavy emphasis on the free trash disposal and gloss over or ignore completely the realities of what it has meant for Suffolk to host the huge regional landfill for nearly 40 years.

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With SPSA’s organizing agreement set to expire on Jan. 24, 2018, Suffolk’s seven neighbors and partners in the authority have been saying, “No how, no way” to any discussion of a partnership-renewing agreement that even considers thinking about the possibility that Suffolk might receive free trash disposal in exchange for hosting a smelly, ugly and potentially dangerous landfill. If Chesapeake and Franklin have to pay $60 or $120 or even 50 cents per ton to SPSA for disposing of their trash at the landfill, the reasoning goes, then, by golly, Suffolk should do the same.

And maybe they’re right. Or at least, maybe the rigidity of their position can be turned into a benefit to Suffolk.

That seems to have been the strategy of Suffolk City Manager Patrick Roberts and others on his team, who’ve negotiated a host agreement that might be an even better deal for Suffolk than free trash disposal. The proposed agreement, to which Suffolk City Council will consider lending its support on Wednesday, would give the city a $4-per-ton check for all residential trash brought to the landfill from outside the city.

Suffolk would be on the hook for whatever the “tipping fee” is for disposal of its own trash, but SPSA would reimburse the city for every ton of trash brought from Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Isle of Wight, Franklin and Southampton.

The agreement also includes important accords that would ensure Suffolk’s partners in SPSA are jointly liable for protecting the environment around the landfill and cleaning it up in the case of some unexpected disaster there. And that responsibility would be shared not just for the life of the landfill, but for at least 50 years after its eventual closure.

Even on its own, the host-fee component of the agreement is almost enough to recommend the deal. It encourages SPSA to find something to do with waste other than burying it. Every ton of trash that’s converted to energy pellets in the fashion envisioned by SPSA’s preferred contractor means one less ton of stink, unsightliness and danger here in Suffolk. And if the grand hopes and plans of SPSA and its proposed energy-pellet maker don’t work out, the city’s $4-per-ton fee would ensure Suffolk is compensated for its troubles — and that the authority is unlikely to look at the Plan-B fallback as anything but a temporary solution.

To put it simply, this proposed host agreement gives Suffolk’s partners in SPSA — especially those with a vindictive desire to make the city pay for years of free use of the landfill — an incentive to find and maintain an answer to solid waste disposal that doesn’t rely on the landfill in Suffolk, and it makes our city responsible for its share of that cost. And the price the agreement would impose for every ton that rolls down Route 58 and into the landfill from outside Suffolk would be a deterrent to complacency regarding that facility.

Roberts and his team have done an outstanding job protecting the city’s interests in these hard negotiations. City Council should support the agreement and send it on to SPSA’s governing board for final approval.