ECUA looks at continuing trash service for Santa Rosa County

Santa Rosa County’s trash problems could get more complicated as the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority will be looking into the county’s trash service after the January 1 deadline over the next week to end the service.

The ECUA board voted 4: 1 on Tuesday to give its employees a week to see if it is possible to continue its garbage service in Santa Rosa County. ECUA had planned to withdraw from the county on January 1st.

Earlier this year, the ECUA started a battle for its franchise to collect trash on the north end of Santa Rosa County when it announced to the county in April that it would not renew its contract if it expired on December 31st.

The ECUA board agreed to give staff a week to see if it would be possible to continue the garbage service in Santa Rosa County instead of withdrawing January 1st

Santa Rosa County then granted Waste Pro an exclusive franchise agreement to fill the void left by ECUA. After the contract was awarded to Waste Pro, another company, Adams Sanitation, stepped in, arguing that the county did not have a proper franchise regulation for the northern part of the county.

The two companies filed lawsuits against one another over the franchise, and the problem reached a breaking point in November when the Santa Rosa County Commission reversed its position and granted Adams Sanitation a county operating license.

Now both companies are supposed to compete in the northern half of the district.

Bruce Woody, executive director of ECUA, told his board of directors that there is now an effectively open market in northern Santa Rosa County.

“An open market actually gives ECUA some opportunity,” said Woody.

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Woody said ECUA could change its service to Santa Rosa County from a bi-weekly pickup to a once-weekly pickup to suit what it offers to Escambia County’s residents.

Woody said with the change, even if only 50% of customers stay with ECUA, the utility could cover its expenses and debt for the garbage trucks it bought when it expanded in Santa Rosa County.

ECUA deputy executive director Randy Rudd, who oversees the garbage and recycling pick-up service for utilities, said the decision to allow multiple garbage services to operate on the north end of the county changed the calculation for ECUA.

“Yes, we weren’t interested in continuing the franchise, but in an open market the dynamic is completely different,” said Rudd.

While the last day of the ECUA under its franchise agreement is December 31st, the ECUA’s waste transportation permit in Santa Rosa County doesn’t expire until May.

However, Andrew Hill, Santa Rosa County Environmental Manager, took the position of the county council that the ECUA would need a new permit and interlocal agreement that the county officers would need to approve in order for the ECUA to continue operating in the county.

Dale Perkins, board member of the ECUA, said the ECUA should focus on severely ending its contract unless the commission invites them instead of exacerbating the county’s legal problems.

ECUA Chair Lois Benson urged Hill to ask if the ECUA was welcome in the county.

“We as the county council and county employees have worked very hard to get the new waste collection program going,” said Hill. “Again, I am not speaking for the Board of County Commissioners, but getting the ECUA back into the mix will make things extremely complicated.”

Rudd told the board that his employees need to know which direction the utility is headed, as take-back operations are due to begin late next week.

Benson said she didn’t want to give up the opportunity and requested that ECUA work for the next week to see if the utility company is welcome in Santa Rosa County, and if so, to continue the competition there.

“Now I don’t want to go where we don’t,” said Benson. “But based on what I heard from people in Santa Rosa, they liked our service.”

Jim Little can be reached at [email protected] and 850-208-9827.

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