SPSA board hears from suitors

Published 11:00 am Thursday, February 26, 2009

Two companies trying to buy a waste-to-energy plant from the troubled Southeastern Public Services Authority presented their cases to the agency’s eight-member board Wednesday, while a third company lobbied for a seat at the table.

The presentations were part of a four-hour meeting Wednesday morning.

Both Wheelabrator Technologies and Covanta Energy spoke to board members about how their companies would work in the best interest of the member communities while also helping to rescue SPSA from $240 million in debts.

SPSA officials said late last year that if the agency didn’t find a way to manage its debt, it would have to cease operations on April 1, leaving more than a million residents without garbage service.

The agency serves eight Hampton Roads localities, including Franklin, Southampton County and Isle of Wight County.

Board members are debating whether to raise the waste tipping fee that localities are charged from $104 per ton to as much as $359 per ton to stave off closure.

Scott Peterson, Covanta’s vice president of business development, told board members his company is prepared to close on a purchase of the Portsmouth incinerator – one of SPSA’s most valuable assets – within 60 days.

“Our goal is to sit down with SPSA as quickly as possible,” Peterson said. He told the board that given SPSA’s current financial position, “we are prepared to offer a substantial initial cash payment and reduced tipping fee that would allow SPSA to retire all of its debt by 2017.”

Wheelabrator representatives also told the board their company could close quickly and provide SPSA with the same benefits.

However, after the meeting, Wheelabrator spokeswoman Lisa Kardell said her company would not push a decision until the SPSA board is ready.

“This is a situation that requires measured thought. They are making a long-term commitment, and it’s their decision,” Kardell said. “We are not here pushing any way. I believe sticking with the schedule they have now is appropriate.”

Neither Wheelabrator nor Covanta disclosed the amounts of their bids.

ReEnergy Holdings, a New York-based waste management group, said it remains interested in purchasing SPSA outright but has yet to see SPSA’s financial statements so that the company can make an informed bid.

In a press release issued during the Wednesday meeting, ReEnergy made a case for why it should be allowed to review SPSA’s finances and bid on the assets.

“Leadership in the majority of SPSA’s member communities are calling upon SPSA to provide access to its facilities, staff, and files to ReEnergy Holdings,” the release said.

So far, Chesapeake, Franklin, Portsmouth and Suffolk and Isle of Wight and Southampton counties have filed letters and resolutions to allow ReEnergy access.

The release said requests of Norfolk and Virginia Beach are pending.

“These letters and resolutions should clearly demonstrate to SPSA management that the member communities are interested in further exploring the advantages of ReEnergy Holdings,” said Larry D. Richardson, the company’s principal and executive officer.

If a ReEnergy bid were successful, the SPSA board would be disbanded and waste removal in the area would likely become a private enterprise controlled by ReEnergy.

Covanta and Wheelabrator have been in talks with SPSA about the incinerator for nearly a year and have paid $230,000 apiece to have their proposals reviewed by SPSA and its consultants.

For more on this story, read Friday’s print edition of The Tidewater News.