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Trash talk centers on competition

December 02, 2005|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - In the popular board game Monopoly, players can buy the electric company, railroad lines and even the water works.

But they cannot plunk down a couple of hundred dollars in fake cash for the trash company, which in Berkeley County is the one business that nearly has a monopoly on garbage collection.

Because of state code, Waste Management Inc. is the only company hauling residential and most commercial trash in the county. Another small company recently was given permission to use two trucks to haul garbage produced by construction and demolition.

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On Thursday, the Berkeley County Commission decided to send an application to the governor asking that a law be waived so other trash haulers can compete for business.

One company, Allied Waste Industries Inc.- commonly called BFI - has started the lengthy, drawn-out and expensive process to obtain a Certificate of Convenience and Necessity from the Public Service Commission. The requirement that such a certificate be granted is the law the county hopes to have waived by the governor.

If BFI receives permission to haul trash, the company would only haul commercial waste. It is not seeking the ability to pick up garbage from residential customers, said Clint Hogbin, chairman of the Berkeley County Solid Waste Authority.

BFI has pledged, in writing, to open either a transfer station for trash, a construction and demolition waste landfill or a construction and demolition recycling facility - or a combination of those, Hogbin said.

The facility would be publicly owned, allowing the Solid Waste Authority to generate income that could be used for programs including an electronics recycling program, a household hazardous waste pickup program, litter cleanup programs and more general recycling opportunities, Hogbin said.

Commissioner: 'Dismal' service


In September, the local Solid Waste Authority sent a four-page application seeking the waiver from state code, but was told the application should be resent by the Berkeley County Commission.

The commissioners voted 2-0 Thursday to forward the same application on County Commission letterhead, with an addition that if the governor cannot take action, the Legislature be allowed to address the matter.

"Waste Management in this case has an exclusive contract with the state of West Virginia to provide service, however, the service in the past several years has been dismal," Commissioner Howard Strauss said after the meeting.

The trash company's contract with the state is perpetual and never reviewed, and does not allow for competitive bidding, Hogbin said.

Nearly every month for more than a year, a Waste Management-owned landfill outside of Hedgesville, W.Va., has closed early after reaching its 9,999-ton limit, meaning no garbage is picked up until a new month begins.

It is the only landfill in the county.

Waste Management has requested the monthly limit be increased to 15,000 tons to address that problem, said Lisa Kardell, director of public affairs for Waste Management.

"Waste Management is providing adequate service for the Eastern Panhandle," Kardell said, adding that challenges have existed because of the landfill's tonnage limit.

When a new transfer station opens in Jefferson County next year in April or May, that problem will be eliminated, she said.

She said Waste Management opposes bringing in BFI as a competitor because BFI would only pick up commercial waste, not residential garbage.

"It's not an even playing field," she said.

Ultimately, an administrative law judge will decide whether BFI can haul trash in Berkeley County. Public hearings on the matter are scheduled to be held next March in Martinsburg, Hogbin said.

Application addresses costs, service


The four-page waiver application, written by Hogbin, states that competition should not drive up prices. It cites as an example a scenario in another part of the state.

A hauler serving Mason County, W.Va., used its same personnel and equipment to also serve customers in a neighboring county in Ohio.

In West Virginia, where the company had a monopoly, it charged residential customers $16.95 a month, but charged residential customers $12 a month in Ohio where there was competition, according to the waiver application.

Customers in Berkeley and Jefferson counties pay more than those in neighboring states.

"(Waste Management's) Maryland and Virginia customers in that area are served by the same dispatching and administrative offices as its West Virginia customers, and some of the same drivers and trucks, yet they pay less," the application states.

On average, West Virginia customers are paying 33 percent more.

From 1997 to 2000 another commercial hauler opened in Jefferson and Berkeley counties, "interrupting the well-established monopoly otherwise enjoyed by Waste Management, Inc.," the application states.

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