Harrison County

After talking trash in court, it’s not yet clear who is picking up garbage come Oct. 1

Will Waste Pro or Team Waste be picking up garbage in Gulfport?
Will Waste Pro or Team Waste be picking up garbage in Gulfport? ttisbell@sunherald.com File

It’s not clear who is picking up garbage in each city in Harrison County beginning in October, even after a court hearing Monday that detailed a small portion of the trash battle between the city of Gulfport and the Harrison County Utility Authority.

Bill Whitfield, an attorney for the City of Gulfport, says the HCUA is not a legally constituted body and that alone would nullify the 1991 contract the authority says binds Gulfport to it.

“We intend to take issue with the constitutionality of the board,” Whitfield told Chancery Court Judge Jennifer Schloegel on Monday during open arguments in a hearing on HCUA’s request for a temporary injunction.

The authority wants to prevent Gulfport from bolting from the authority’s 1991 solid waste management contract and using the city’s own contractor to pick up garbage and rubbish in the city. The constitutionality decision likely will wait until another day. All Schloegel is being asked to decide is whether to hold up Gulfport’s contract and allow HCUA to pick up garbage and rubbish there at least until all the issues are resolved.

Whitfield said the Board of Supervisors is supposed to put its president on the HCUA board, as well as appoint a member from outside the Board of Supervisors. It has done neither over the years, he said, which means the 1991 contract isn’t legal.

Gulfport negotiated a new contract for garbage and rubbish pickup with Waste Pro, which is separate from HCUA’s contracts with Team Waste and Pelican Waste & Debris.

HCUA said that the absence of Gulfport from that contract will cost Harrison County taxpayers $1.4 million over the life of the contract. Gulfport is the largest city in Harrison County.

“You lose the economy of scale,” said HCUA attorney Tim Holleman, explaining that Team Waste will charge a higher rate per household with Gulfport out of the contract. Gulfport argues that it was able to negotiate a better deal on its own.

Gulfport’s contract would have twice as many days of garbage/rubbish pickup but half as many days of recycling pickup as the HCUA contract and would cost 3 cents more per household per month.

Holleman argued that the Mississippi Legislature has over the years given the HCUA the exclusive right to negotiate such contracts. He said the HCUA board could vote to allow Gulfport out of the 1991 contract but Gulfport hasn’t met key criteria, such as developing its own solid waste management plan, that must proceed such a vote.

“There is nothing, zero, in legislation that gave the Utility Authority the exclusive right to do anything,” said Whitfield. However, Holleman said that a 2006 law that melded solid waste and water and sewer agencies in the county into the HCUA places the power to negotiate such contracts with the authority regardless of whether the 1991 agreement is terminated.

Whitfield said Gulfport’s request for proposals that led to the Waste Pro contract met that solid waste management plan requirement when it was submitted to the HCUA board.

He said Gulfport also accepted a memorandum of understanding with HCUA that amounted to a settlement of the dispute but HCUA then rejected the MOU when Gulfport added a single word, “alleged,” before the word “damages.”

He also said the 1991 agreement isn’t constitutional because it binds future boards and councils to spend money on a contract they didn’t approve. He wants the HCUA to put up a bond of several million dollars until all the issues are resolved.

What isn’t clear is who will pick up garbage on Oct. 1, the first day of the new HCUA and Gulfport contracts. Even though the authority questions the validity of Gulfport’s contract, a map on the HCUA website clearly excludes Gulfport from the authority’s pickup coverage. It says Gulfport residents with questions should call city hall at 228-868-5700.

Paul Hampton: 228-284-7296, @JPaulHampton