SPSA vote nixed

Published 8:10 am Wednesday, January 28, 2009

CHESAPEAKE—The “fireworks” are off — for now.

Today’s scheduled public hearing and vote on a controversial proposal to more than double garbage tipping fees in the region has been postponed, officials with the Southeastern Public Service Authority said Tuesday.

The heaaring was canceled after someone complained that the regional garbage agency did not adequately advertise the meeting as required by the state Freedom of Information Act.

In a written statement Tuesday afternoon, SPSA officials said “the hearing has been cancelled on the advice of counsel, after SPSA received an inquiry regarding the validity of the notification provided under the Virginia Code … specifically whether a vote on raising municipal tipping fees requires 60 days notice and two separate newspaper advertisements. SPSA only advertised this hearing once.”

Tom Kreidel, the authority’s public relations coordinator, said SPSA advertised the public hearing in The Virginian-Pilot on Jan. 9.

Kreidel said SPSA’s Board of Directors would still meet at 9:30 a.m. today, but there will be no vote taken to raise tipping fees. That decision will be postponed until late March or early April, Kreidel said.

“A regular meeting is on — but not the fireworks,” said Franklin City Councilman Barry Cheatham, who represents the city on SPSA’s board.

Unknown is whether SPSA, plagued by falling revenues and more than $200 million in debt, can survive for another 60 days without raising tipping fees. Presumably, if SPSA could secure temporary financing elsewhere, it could raise tipping fees much higher than $245 per ton for the last three months of the current fiscal year.

The $245 rate, if it had been approved today, would have been effective immediately.

Asked if SPSA can stay afloat for another two months without raising tipping fees, Cheatham said, “From the information given at the last (SPSA) meeting, it will be close. We will have to see and look at what can be done to assist in staying afloat. At this point, I just do not know.”

He later added, “I firmly think that we’re going to make it, but it’s going to be by the skin of our teeth. It’s going to be close.”

In other SPSA-related news, officials with ReEnergy Holdings LLC, the company that has offered $205 million to purchase the authority outright and wipe out its debt, met with the Southampton County Board of Supervisors and the Franklin City Council in back-to-back meetings Monday night.

Both the county and the city approved separate motions allowing ReEnergy, based in Latham, N.Y., to negotiate directly with SPSA on a buyout.

Larry Richardson, the principal/executive officer for ReEnergy, told county and city officials that the requirement for the localities to sign 20-year agreements with the company was non-negotiable. Richardson also said ReEnergy would not purchase SPSA without the waste-to-energy incinerator in Portsmouth as part of the deal.