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Authority seeks temporary trash solution

The regional trash authority on Wednesday moved to retain its current trash disposal method at least temporarily after voting last week to dump what it had hoped would be its new method.

The authority’s board voted in August to terminate its contract with RePower, which had proposed a plan to begin in 2018 to transform the region’s trash into energy pellets at a Chesapeake facility. The pellets would then be sold as an alternative energy source.

But the company missed a January deadline for its financial close, and Southeastern Public Service Authority board members had become increasingly concerned in the months prior to the August vote.

Interim Executive Director Liesl DeVary said Wednesday the authority received a $300,000 payment from RePower that had been held in escrow.

The authority currently delivers its trash to a Portsmouth waste-to-energy facility owned by Wheelabrator, which incinerates the trash. The Suffolk landfill, owned by SPSA, currently accepts the ash from Wheelabrator, construction and demolition debris and a small amount of waste that is not processible at the Wheelabrator facility, City Manager Patrick Roberts said Wednesday.

After a closed session Wednesday, the board voted to authorize DeVary to negotiate a potential interim or short-term extension to the existing Wheelabrator contract, Roberts said.

That’s good news for Suffolk if it comes through, because it extends the life of the landfill.

“In the near term, nothing changes at the landfill,” Roberts said. “We were preparing for a significant increase in the amount of waste that would be going into the landfill after the first of the year.”

However, he added, “If there is a temporary agreement reached with Wheelabrator, that would mean everything stays the same.”

Roberts said a request for proposals should be developed soon to develop a new, permanent solution for the region’s trash disposal.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, DeVary reported to the board that SPSA, once crippled with debt, made its last debt service payment on Sept. 12 and is now debt-free. When she started working at the authority, it was $280 million in debt.

DeVary said the authority was paying about $900,000 a month in debt service for the last two years.

Board Vice Chairman Luke McCoy, who represents Portsmouth, also gave a report on the search for a new executive director.

He said 27 applications were received, and a consulting firm presented the subcommittee with 10 applications. They narrowed it down to six candidates to interview, and the first round of interviews is set for later this month.