SPSA makes smart decision on future

Published 10:26 am Wednesday, April 20, 2016

by John Cosgrove

With any new technology, some will resist. Still, nobody visits Blockbuster to rent a movie. Even Redbox is becoming antiquated. Most people prefer the cleaner, simpler benefits of streaming video. Just as technology has revolutionized the home movie industry, the same is true in trash.

Achieving a revolution requires forward thinking by brave people able to make a wise decision.

The Southeastern Public Service Authority’s board recently awarded the region’s waste disposal services contract to RePower South. The decision satisfies the authority’s duty and significantly expands environmental benefits to everyone.

SPSA is the regional solid waste collection and disposal agency for more than a million citizens in Chesapeake, Franklin, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk and Virginia Beach and Isle of Wight and Southampton counties.

In 2009, I proposed SPSA either completely restructure or simply close. I introduced two bills in the General Assembly because I was convinced we needed business people running things, not politicians.

I’m pleased by how well SPSA’s board has responded. The new board has worked diligently to vastly reduce the debt (at one time more than $250 million), and is on schedule to totally retire the debt by the end of 2018, when the existing SPSA agreement among the cities and counties expires.

An exhaustive and thorough request for proposals for the future began in October 2014. RePower South was awarded the 15-year contract in February. I’ll summarize two primary benefits to the cities and counties SPSA serves: financial and environmental.

From a financial point of view, SPSA’s tip fees should be reduced from the current $125 per ton down to RPS’s proposed $56, saving hundreds of millions of dollars. Municipalities will use those taxpayer dollars for schools, public safety, recreation and other essential services. RPS’s plan will save SPSA’s municipal partners $165 million during the 15-year contract over the current process. Municipalities constantly seek operations that minimize costs without sacrificing quality. Savings of $11 million annually translates to positive budget realignments for each city.

SPSA’s board paid close attention to environmental ramifications. In fact, SPSA will lead the nation with the RPS process, which recovers two to three times the amount of materials. The environmentally superlative approach focuses on recycling, recoverable and renewable waste.

RPS will, for the first time, combine two innovative technologies successfully employed around the globe. Both systems currently perform on scales equal to or larger than SPSA’s contract. The improved method captures recyclables and other recoverable material that otherwise will be a lost resource buried in the ground or burned in an incinerator.

RPS will build a $100 million plant in Chesapeake where recyclable materials will be processed and sold on traditional recycling markets. Most of the other waste materials will be used to manufacture biofuel pellets using a patented, proprietary technology and sold to utilities as an environmentally improved alternative to coal.

Moreover, by expanding the use of up to 80 percent of waste materials, RPS will extend the lifespan of our regional landfills by more than 50 years.

SPSA’s board was painstaking in evaluating the expertise necessary for RPS to deliver on its proposal.

At the helm is Jim Bohlig, chief development officer of RPS. He founded and is the former CEO of ReCommunity Holdings, a recycling enterprise that recycles nearly two million tons across 36 states. He also was president and COO of Casella Waste, an integrated waste management company he grew into a $600 million publicly traded operation. He is one of the inventors of the Advanced BioFuel technology RPS will use.

SPSA’s decision will bring to the region the world’s foremost experts in waste processing technology. In more than 40 years, Bulk Handling Systems has been universally recognized for excellence and innovation in mixed waste processing. Barnhill Contracting Company has extensive expertise in process manufacturing, with annual revenue of $500 million.

SPSA’s board must be commended for securing a partner seeking no financial support. RPS’s plant and operations are funded fully through private business. No public investment is required.

Sometimes decisions are made out of duty. Sometimes decisions are made because they’re the right thing to do.

But the best decisions combine duty with doing what’s right. SPSA’s directors display this rarest example of making a decision based on duty and doing right. Their forward thinking and embrace of an innovative technological approach will serve our region well into the future.

JOHN COSGROVE is the Virginia state senator from the 14th District, which includes parts of Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Suffolk, as well as Isle of Wight and Southampton counties.