Virginia Veterans and Defense Affairs Secretary John C. Harvey Jr. raised red flags last week when he sent Virginia Beach Mayor William D. Sessoms Jr. a letter saying the Navy could be harmed if localities withdrew from a regional trash agreement.
"Making it more costly for NNSY (Norfolk Naval Shipyard) to do business to the potential detriment of the Navy, and the shipyard's 9,000 employees who live throughout the Hampton Roads region, is the wrong message to send at this time," Harvey wrote.
The Southeastern Public Service Authority agreement expires in January 2018. Eight localities -- Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Franklin, Southampton County and Isle of Wight County -- have to decide whether they will participate in SPSA going forward. Even if they decided to work together, they have to figure out which of three companies to work with.
Currently, Wheelabrator Technologies processes the trash at a plant in Portsmouth and the city benefits from $3 million in taxes and water fees.
Wheelabrator has applied to continue processing the trash after January 2018 along with two new players. RePower South hopes to build a trash-to-energy facility in Chesapeake near the High-Rise Bridge. Republic Services has a landfill in Brunswick County.
Under SPSA, fees have risen to $125 per ton for most municipalities and some localities are considering whether a traditional landfill would save them money.
Portsmouth officials have publicly discussed withdrawing from SPSA.
At an August work session, Councilman Danny Meeks said if Portsmouth continued with SPSA, all of the council should be fired.
"And I will tell all ya'll if we do any of those deals, they need to fire all of us," Meeks said.
Mayor Kenny Wright added, "I can share with you, I have chatted and have ate and I made sure we have eaten the dinner and they have paid for it before I have told them not only a 'no' but a 'hell no.'"
In the Oct. 19 letter to Sessoms, Harvey said Wheelabrator's waste-to-energy program provides "mission-essential steam to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard" and is under contract to continue providing the steam until 2023, he said.
If SPSA were to stop providing waste, Wheelabrator would close its waste-to-energy facility and have to provide the Norfolk Naval Shipyard with steam from conventional fossil fuel plants to meet its contractual agreement.
"I certainly understand the cost differential that exists between the current waste-to-energy program and the potential shift to landfills and how, in a time of tight budgets, that estimated cost differential could appear very attractive to you and your community," Harvey wrote. "However, I would urge you to take a longer, more comprehensive view of the regional benefits currently provided by SPSA's waste-to-energy program before you make a decision to terminate the program."
With the growing possibility of base closures in the future, "now is not the time to impose additional costs/inconvenience on one of the region's largest employers," the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, he said.