Rivanna Solid Waste Authority faces changes as county makes plans to scale back support

Recyclables stack up at a private facility that handles waste from Charlottesville and the surrounding area. Albemarle County officials are eying privatizing solid waste transfer services, saying they’re no longer willing to support the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority’s transfer station in Ivy. Photo by Ash Daniel.

The Rivanna Solid Waste Authority is at a crossroads. The joint agency was set up 22 years ago to oversee trash disposal and recycling in Charlottesville and Albemarle, but because of heavy competition among private haulers and a steady decrease in trash tonnage, the RSWA’s transfer facility in Ivy can no longer pay for itself. Now county staff and elected officials say they’re done propping it up.

“The county is saying right now that it’s time to reinvent the Authority,” said RSWA board member and Albemarle County Director of Neighborhood Development Mark Graham.

A consultant hired by Albemarle recommended the county look at finding a private partner instead of continuing to fund the RSWA’s transfer facility at the Ivy Materials Utilization Center, which charges a fee to allow local haulers to collect and then reload garbage before trucking it out of the area. Draper Aden Associates suggested the RSWA give up on running a transfer station at all, because the aging facility has been operating under capacity and at a loss—and the financial pressure has mounted for Albemarle since the City of Charlottesville opted to back out of what was a three-way agreement. County Supervisor Ken Boyd, who also sits on the RSWA board, said the costs for the county are soon expected to rise to more than $600,000 annually.

Instead, county staff said, the best option would be to make the Ivy facility a “convenience center,” where residents can pay by the load to dump things like yard waste and appliances.

But such a reinvention would mean a major scaling back for the RSWA, which currently spends $1.25 million a year to run the transfer facility. Boyd acknowledged that might mean some of the Authority’s 13 employees would no longer be needed. But private companies are doing the same work more efficiently, he said.

“The county would prefer not to be in the trash business,” he said.

The immediate task at hand for the RSWA is deciding whether to renew its contract with Waste Management, which currently enjoys deeply discounted tipping fees at the Ivy facility. Draper Aden suggested dumping that deal, whether the board decides to scrap the transfer facility or not. The contract renewal deadline is December 31, and the board has called a special meeting December 18 to make a decision.

But there will likely be a lot of discussion about the future of the Authority as a whole, too. Boyd and Graham said the county wants to hear from RSWA Executive Director Tom Frederick whether he believes the Authority can run the Ivy facility as a self-supporting operation. If not, it’s time to look at other options, they said.

“We’re considering their request in light of what we feel we can offer, while making sure we can maintain high quality of customer service,” Frederick said. “It’s complicated, but we’re working through those issues, and we hope to have a proposal on December 18.”

Ultimately, though, the RSWA’s services have to line up with what its municipal partners want. “If the county were not to extend a new contract with us, more than likely the Ivy facility will close,” Frederick said.

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