Revenues slide for RSWA, which contends $1M in unpaid fines from private trash hauler

These days, the media in Charlottesville has been awash in the unlikeliest of topics: garbage. 
 
Solid waste, that is.
 
For months we’ve been reading and hearing about the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority’s lawsuit against Van der Linde Recycling, a private waste collector that sees itself as working towards a greener future for the industry. Van der Linde has just opened their Materials Recovery Facility in Fluvanna, allowing them to accept collected trash and sift through it for recyclables. As such, owner Peter Van der Linde holds that the case against him is nothing more than a bureaucratic conspiracy; an attempt on the Authority’s part to shut down a forward-thinking operation that cuts directly into their revenue, which is on the decline.
 
The Rivanna Solid Waste Authority (RSWA) first filed suit against Van der Linde in December 2007, alleging that Van der Linde’s haulers knowingly lied about the origin of their waste in order to dodge the RSWA’s $16 service contribution fee for dumping in the Zion Crossroads facility in Fluvanna (operated by a company called BFI).
 
This past September, the RSWA filed a second amended complaint, asking that Van der Linde pay $30 million on heightened charges of racketeering.
 
Just last month the RSWA’s key material witness in the case, Richard Wade Kendrick, was convicted of extortion in a Fluvanna County courthouse. Kendrick threatened to turn over evidence to the RSWA showing that Van der Linde repeatedly asked his drivers to lie, unless the latter paid him $90,000 in cash. Kendrick’s background before this matter was anything but squeaky-clean. He served 12 years in prison on 153 years of suspended sentences from past convictions that include grand larceny and attempted kidnapping.
 
Despite Kendrick’s conviction, Tom Frederick, Executive Director for the RSWA, insists that Peter Van der Linde has diverted the public’s attention away from the heart of the case.
 
“Contrary to statements made by Mr. Van der Linde,” wrote Frederick in a press release this past summer, “the lawsuit is in no way related to Mr. Van der Linde’s decision to operate a recycling facility in Zion Crossroads.”
 
What the case really comes down to is this $16 service contribution fee, which the RSWA levies in addition to the regular tipping fees. 
 
Some background: Back in 1997, BFI, a private waste collection company, and the RSWA reached an agreement that the Zion Crossroads transfer station would accept waste from Rivanna, whereby the RSWA could then collect a $16 service contribution fee.
 
It gets complicated when, in 2005, the RSWA threatened lawsuit against BFI for failing to calculate the RSWA’s $16 fee. In fact, the RSWA’s Frederick admitted as much in a letter to Peter Van der Linde dated November 11, 2005, where he states: “Allied Waste Systems [BFI] was not keeping records on the originating City or County of each delivered load.”
 
Once BFI began declaring loads originating in Rivanna (and imposing said fee), Van der Linde sued the RSWA in December 2005 on the grounds of discrimination. His complaint, filed in Charlottesville District Court, claimed that the RSWA unjustly exempted BFI from the fee on loads that they hauled from Rivanna. The case was dismissed.
 
After that time, Van der Linde’s loads that were identified as coming from Rivanna began to drop at an alarming rate. According to the RSWA’s second amended complaint, Van der Linde drivers reported to BFI that 2,253 tons originated in Rivanna for 2005. That number fell to 674.15 tons in 2006 and to just 406.6 tons in 2007. Between October 2005 and December 2008, almost 70 percent of all Van der Linde loads taken to the Zion Crossroads transfer station were said to have been brought from outside of Rivanna, including a period from September 2006 to August 2007 when Van der Linde’s drivers claimed that zero loads had originated in Rivanna. This is when the red flags went up, and the RSWA decided to investigate.
 
There is no shortage of quotes from Peter Van der Linde acknowledging that many of his loads came from Rivanna. Yet it is his assertion that BFI has continually failed to ask his drivers where their loads originated, and, as such, he claims that he is not responsible to offer information that is not requested of him. 
 
According to the RSWA’s second amended complaint, this was simply not true. They have tried to show that when a driver pulls up to the BFI transfer station at Zion Crossroads, his truck is weighed and he is given a ticket on which it is mandatory that the origin of the waste be identified. Each driver must sign the ticket and it is then sent to the county  from which the waste originated.
 
Even if the employees at BFI forgot to ask the drivers the origin of their waste in the past, the RSWA contends that in order for one to believe Van der Linde, BFI employees would have to have filled in the origin of every single ticket themselves for that 12-month period in which Van der Linde reported zero loads originating in Rivanna.
The RSWA’s complaint alleges that Van der Linde has motive to lie about the origin of waste in order to save money. Furthermore, despite Richard Kendrick’s criminal background, the evidence that he turned over to the RSWA remains pretty damning for Van der Linde.
 
Claiming that he feared further criminal action against him for repeatedly lying to BFI, Kendrick kept a log for one month of the origin of each load he took to BFI. Every single load that Kendrick wrote in his log lined up with a registered BFI ticket. However, Kendrick’s log, which was filed with the RSWA’s second amended complaint, claimed that many of the loads were from Rivanna, while the corresponding BFI tickets registered the loads as originating elsewhere. 
 
A state judge called for Van der Linde to hand over these tickets as evidence in 2008, but Van der Linde admitted that he destroyed the original tickets after converting them to invoices. The judge has acknowledged that there is prima facie evidence that Van der Linde destroyed the tickets, but a ruling is yet to be handed down as to its pertinence in the overall case.
 
In an effort to counter Kendrick’s claim, Van der Linde has made public record numerous audio recordings of BFI’s employees at the Zion Crossroads, whereby he notes that no BFI employee asks the origin of the waste. However, the tapes are inconclusive, as the only audio is that of BFI employees speaking. Van der Linde’s drivers are not recorded.
 
In the end, BFI’s apparent incompetence with record-keeping and Richard Kendrick’s criminal background could make it difficult for the RSWA’s case to hold up in court.
 
But there remain even bigger questions. What is the $16 service contribution fee anyway? And where does the money collected by the RSWA go? 
 
A public authority is a corporation that takes on powers to regulate or maintain public infrastructure, meant to run self-sufficiently like a private company, yet remain under the control of the government. As such, authorities can rely on taxpayers to make up for whatever financial deficiencies that they might befall. This has been the case with the RSWA, whose annual income has fallen almost $750,000 in comparison to last year – a point they attribute partially to Van der Linde’s failure to pay their service contribution fee over the better part of 2005-2008.
 
The RSWA was formed in 1990 to manage waste and recycling activities in Charlottesville and Albemarle County. It is governed by a seven member Board of Directors which includes Charlottesville City Councilor David Brown and Albemarle County Supervisor Kenneth C. Boyd, both of whom have expressed public disapproval to local papers at the job the RSWA is doing. Yet both continue to support their case against Van der Linde.
 
“This case is Rivanna accusing Mr. Van der Linde of fraud, and the fraud he is accused of is intentionally not paying as much as a million dollars in fees due to Rivanna,” David Brown insists. “I would hope people aren’t saying, ‘That’s O.K. We don’t really care what he did, he is doing such a good business now, that he is to be excused from that.’” 
 
Still, former Republican City Councilor Rob Schilling has blasted the RSWA’s lawsuit on his WINA radio show, and recently elected City Councilor Kristen Szakos told reporters that she was “very concerned” about how Van der Linde has been treated. Even the RSWA’s own chair of the Citizen’s Advisory Board, Jeff Greer, complained at a November 2009 City Council meeting that the RSWA has made no strategic advances in their own waste and disposal services.
 
There is the other issue of waste transfer. As land becomes more expensive in Albemarle and Fluvanna, it has become nearly impossible for solid waste authorities to locate new landfills.  
 
The citizens of Albemarle and Fluvanna have also become increasingly aware of the adverse effects that landfills have on the community, and have worked politically to assure that waste originating in these two counties is shuffled elsewhere, often landing in some poor community like Dinwitty, or sent down to North Carolina. A good portion of the RSWA’s service contribution fee goes towards recovering the costs of site operations and, specifically, transfers. 
 
The obvious alternatives to landfills are waste reduction and recycling strategies, which Van der Linde Recycling seems to have emerged as progressive leader for now. And because of that, the RSWA is fighting more than just Van der Linde. It seems that they are fighting to remain viable with the politicians and citizens alike.  

The case goes before Charlottesville federal court in June, 2010. 

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