Harrison County

Gulfport’s plan to go solo on trash pickup could wind up in court

One way Harrison County Utility Authority hopes to increase recycling is by offering customers bins that are considerably larger than the familiar blue bins on Waste Pro.
One way Harrison County Utility Authority hopes to increase recycling is by offering customers bins that are considerably larger than the familiar blue bins on Waste Pro. jcfitshugh@sunherald.com File

Two words shut down the conversation about Gulfport’s plan to bolt from the Harrison County Utility Authority’s garbage and rubbish contracts: Pending litigation.

Gulfport wants to negotiate its own contract for hauling in the city limits. To do that it would have to leave a 1991 agreement between the cities and the Utility Authority that banded them together to contract for hauling and disposal. The HCUA could vote to allow Gulfport out of that agreement, said HCUA Executive Director Donald Schaar, but Gulfport first must have a garbage and solid waste management plan approved by the state Department of Environmental Quality. Gulfport doesn’t have that approved plan, Schaar said.

Then there is the problem of HCUA contract negotiated two years ago with two landfill operators. Those contracts were negotiated under the assumption that they would be receiving garbage, in the case of Waste Management, and rubbish limbs and other yard debris in the case of Team Waste, from county as well as all its cities.

“That’s an obligation you’ve got there,” said Team Waste attorney Cody Waters. “If you are not going to let (Gulfport) out, you better get on your horse because come Oct. 1, the city of Gulfport right now is not in a contract that’s been sanctioned by this board for collection and disposal. If they’re not out of this thing and you guys don’t vote to allow them out, as I read the contract, it’s very clear, they don’t have an approved plan, it hasn’t been approved by you ... you guys have exposure yourselves.”

Waters said all Team Waste wants is an assurance that Gulfport will be bringing all its rubbish and yard waste to its landfill. Waste Management, which has the contract for garbage at its landfill, wants the same. Team Waste also will have the HCUA hauling contract for garbage starting Oct. 1. Pelican Waste and Debris will have the rubbish hauling contract.

“This can be addressed,” he said at the HCUA meeting Thursday. “This issue now is if they are not going to honor these agreements that they voted on (as a member of HCUA), negotiated and approved two years ago, and leave you guys in the lurch on it, we’ve got a lot of problems. We at Team Waste have no choice, we don’t want any of this, but we have no choice but to defend our position on that contract. We want to work with you guys on this.”

That was enough for HCUA attorney Jim Simpson. That and a letter he received from Waters shortly before the meeting that outlined the company’s position in detail.

“It plainly says there is going to be some litigation on some issues that we’re about to talk about,” Simpson said. “That is actual, threatened, potential litigation, so for me to answer more of your questions, we have to go into executive session.”

And they did, emerging without taking any action, according to Schaar.

Gulfport appears poised to sign a contract with Waste Pro, the company that has the HCUA contract until Oct. 1. One reason the authority decided not to extend the contract for a year, Schaar said, was the company’s poor performance.

Before the discussion turned to lawyers and courtrooms, Schaar had presented an accounting of the number of complaints about Waste Pro, a number he said has risen of late.

A memo prepared by Schaar said Waste Pro reported an average of 1,191 calls a month last year but that has increased to 2,000 a month during the past four months. It said of the 1,972 calls received from February through June, 471 were not resolved within the time frame required by the contract.

And while the contract allows the HCUA to withhold some payment, Schaar said he’d rather see Waste Pro clean up its act and not leave a mess for the new hauling contractors.

The new HCUA contracts call for once-a-week pickup for garbage, while the old contract had twice-a-week pickup for garbage and once-a-week pickup each for recyclables and rubbish. The cost to households will increase $2.50 a month

Gulfport is negotiating a contract it says will include twice-a-week pickup for garbage and reduce recycling pickup to once every two weeks. It hasn’t released the price. Gulfport spokesman Chris Vignes said Mayor Billy Hewes told him that he has nothing to say until the city has a signed contract, which he expects by the end of next week.

Schaar said he has received complaints from people about the price increase and reduction in service but he said once he explains details of the contract, they seem to be OK with the new deal. For example, the HCUA will get to keep the garbage and recycling bins at the end of the contract, which should result in savings on the next contract, and the HCUA will no longer be responsible for the cost of dumping the garbage and debris in the two landfills. That, he said, is an incentive for the contractors to work on increasing recycling, which would cut their landfill bills.

“If they’ll just give me five minutes to explain, they’re usually OK,” he said.