SPSA board made a good choice

Published 8:52 pm Thursday, April 21, 2016

By Senator John Cosgrove

With any new technology, some will resist. Still, nobody visits Blockbuster to rent a movie. Even Redbox is becoming antiquated. Most people prefer the cleaner, simpler benefits of streaming video. Just as technology has revolutionized the home movie industry, the same is true in trash.

Achieving a revolution requires forward thinking by brave people able to make wise decisions.

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The Southeastern Public Service Authority’s board recently awarded the region’s waste disposal services contract to RePower South. The decision satisfies the authority’s duty and significantly expands environmental benefits to everyone.

In 2009, I proposed SPSA either completely restructure or simply close, because I was convinced we needed business people running things, not politicians.

I’m pleased by how well SPSA’s board has responded. The new board has worked diligently to reduce SPSA’s debt (at one time more than $250 million), and is on schedule to totally retire the debt by the end of 2018, when the existing SPSA agreement among the cities and counties expires.

An exhaustive request for proposals for the future began in October 2014. RePower South was awarded the 15-year contract in February. I’ll summarize two primary benefits to the cities and counties SPSA serves: financial and environmental.

From a financial point of view, SPSA’s tip fees should be reduced from the current $125 per ton to RPS’ proposed $56, saving hundreds of millions of dollars. Municipalities can use those taxpayer dollars for schools, public safety, recreation and other essential services.

RPS’ plan will save SPSA’s municipal partners $165 million during the 15-year contract over the current process. Savings of $11 million annually translates to positive budget realignments for each city.

SPSA’s board paid close attention to environmental ramifications. In fact, SPSA will lead the nation with the RPS process, which recovers two to three times the amount of materials. The environmentally superlative approach focuses on recycling, recoverable and renewable waste.

RPS will, for the first time, combine two innovative technologies successfully employed around the globe. Both systems currently perform on scales equal to or larger than SPSA’s contract. The improved method captures recyclables and other recoverable material that otherwise will be a lost resource buried in the ground or burned in an incinerator.

RPS will build a $100 million plant in Chesapeake, where recyclable materials will be processed and sold on traditional recycling markets. Most of the other waste materials will be used to manufacture biofuel pellets using a patented, proprietary technology and sold to utilities as an environmentally improved alternative to coal.

Moreover, by expanding the use of up to 80 percent of waste materials, RPS will extend the lifespan of our regional landfills by more than 50 years.

SPSA’s board must be commended for securing a partner seeking no financial support. RPS’s plant and operations are funded fully through private business. No public investment is required.

Sometimes decisions are made out of duty. Sometimes decisions are made because they’re the right thing to do.

But the best decisions combine duty with doing what’s right. SPSA’s directors display this rarest example of decision-making based on duty and doing right. Their forward thinking and embracement of an innovative technological approach will serve our region well into the future.

State Senator John Cosgrove represents Virginia’s 14th District, which includes parts of Suffolk, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, Isle of Wight and Southampton. This column first appeared in the Virginian-Pilot.