SPSA board members get feet wet

Published 8:09 am Friday, January 29, 2010

CHESAPEAKE—Several new board members of the Southeastern Public Service Authority had their first official meeting Wednesday, which was highlighted with lengthy discussions and explanations surrounding the impending sale of the waste-to-energy plant.

“I’m just rather overwhelmed,” Suffolk representative James Adams, CEO of Amadas Industries, Inc, said halfway through the meeting. “I did what I thought was some of my homework, but obviously it wasn’t really enough.”

Franklin representative Everett C. Williams Jr., a former Ford executive, said he is learning more about the operation of the regional trash authority.

“I feel like I’m gaining knowledge of the operation of SPSA,” Williams said. “Right now, the acronyms are getting to me,” he joked.

The new board members were legislated into office by a bill passed by the General Assembly last year. The former board members, mostly elected officials, were required to be replaced by people, appointed by the governor, who had general business knowledge.

The new board members endured a meeting that lasted more than four hours, hearing detailed updates on the authority’s present financial situation and the process of the sale of the waste-to-energy plant.

One issue of contention during the meeting became the purchase and installation of parts in boilers at the waste-to-energy plant. The facility, which is set to be sold to Wheelabrator Technologies by May 1, needs replacement parts, but some board members balked at the idea of investing in equipment that will soon be sold.

“I think it behooves us to look at this, instead of sending all this money out there,” said Chesapeake representative Marley Woodall.

Waste-to-energy plant manager Richard Cheliras said the parts have been failing recently, and are near the end of their service life. If the boilers continue to break, it will diminish his ability to burn trash, fulfill the authority’s contractual obligation to sell steam to the U.S. Navy, and generate revenue by selling steam power to outside sources.

In addition, the facilities must be sold to Wheelabrator in substantially the same condition as they were at the beginning of negotiations, special counsel Warren Nowlin said. If the value of the equipment diminishes, the purchase price will go down.

Board members eventually voted to install boiler tubes that SPSA already has. The staff recommendation to purchase and install waterwall panels in the boilers, however, did not go through because none of the board members would make a motion to approve the contract. The members later voted to table the waterwall panel contracts to the February meeting.