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‘New beginning for SPSA’

By Kellie Lagoy

The long-anticipated date has arrived for members of the Southeastern Public Service Authority.

On Thursday, a multitude of changes go into effect for the regional trash authority and its eight-member communities — Franklin, Southampton County, Isle of Wight County, Suffolk, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Norfolk and Virginia Beach.

Among the changes are new use and support agreements between the authority and each member locality. Suffolk no longer has free disposal in exchange for hosting the regional landfill, a so-called “sweetheart deal” that caused consternation for other members in years past, especially as the other members paid some of the highest disposal fees in the country as the authority struggled to pay off mountains of debt.

SPSA Executive Director Liesl DeVary believes the new agreements will serve the communities positively.

“The agreements with all the communities are identical. No special deals; everyone is on the same page and paying the same,” DeVary said. “With all communities being treated the same, it benefits the region instead of having special deals amongst different communities.”

Part of the new agreements means waste will be exclusively dealt with by SPSA and entities it has agreements with. In the past, cities only had to deliver 95 percent of their waste to SPSA. This meant some cities were typically sending their bulk waste to other landfills in order to cut costs.

Discussions about bulk waste are still on the table with the board of directors, and a resolution is anticipated by July 1. If no agreement is made, the date can be pushed back as far as needed, according to DeVary.

As of Jan. 1, according to a public notice on the SPSA website, residents of six of the eight communities will now only get 12 free trips to their local transfer stations. SPSA is getting rid of “free disposal,” DeVary said.

For a few months already, transfer stations have been scanning driver’s licenses to keep a record of those who are bringing their waste. After each resident’s allotted visits, that resident will have to pay $65 per ton with a $20 minimum.

“This was at the request of the communities to limit them to 12 a year,” DeVary said. “We will do away with ‘free disposal.’ There is no one getting free disposal.”

This new provision will not affect Isle of Wight or Franklin because parts of those localities do not offer curbside pickup.

Another change will mean that more trash will be filling the regional landfill in Suffolk. Waste from Suffolk, Isle of Wight and Franklin will now go to the landfill, rather than to the Wheelabrator waste-to-energy plant in Portsmouth.

“The reason we are doing that is to keep our cost down,” DeVary said. “Why would we incur hauling cost to transfer to take it to Portsmouth? It’s a shorter distance to the landfill than Wheelabrator. SPSA is hauling the waste, and we can do it more cost-effectively.”

In August, SPSA terminated an agreement with RePower South, which had planned to build a facility in Chesapeake to convert the region’s trash to energy pellets, which would serve as an alternative fuel source to coal. RePower had been unable to secure financing, so the authority chose to continue with Wheelabrator for the time being.

The new tipping fee is $65 per ton. The fee immediately prior was $125 per ton, but it had been as high as $165 in past years.

“All of these changes are all-encompassing and are absolutely how we are able to bring the tipping fee down,” DeVary said.

As part of a host agreement, Suffolk will receive $4 per ton brought to the regional landfill as a host fee.

“It’s a new beginning for SPSA and the communities, and I believe we are in a much better situation in moving forward from here,” DeVary said. “We are able to fulfill our obligations to our community, and our No. 1 obligation is to provide a cost-effective long-term trash disposal system.”

The first expiration date for the new use agreements is June 30, 2027.