Recycle this! Van der Linde steps up tone
Recycling entrepreneur Peter Van der Linde, who opened an $11 million state-of-the-art recycling facility in Zion Crossroads last December, recently did a round of local radio interviews, drawing attention once again to his ongoing legal battle with the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority, which has filed a $3.5 million lawsuit against him.
"If this doesn't bother you, nothing will," declared former Republican City Councilor Rob Schilling on his WINA radio program, saying he was "disgusted" by the Authority's action against Van der Linde. "It's wrong in every single way."
After having toured Van der Linde's facility, Schilling told listeners he was "awestruck" by the operation, which can sort up to 100 tons of construction and demolition debris and curbside recyclables per hour.
As detailed in the Hook [What a Waste: Is the trash Authority going obsolete?], the 100,000 square-foot facility has a $3.2 million state-of-the-art machine that separates recyclables from the trash stream. Because Van der Linde's tipping fees are lower than the Authority's, and because his facility does all the separating, local haulers have flocked.
In early April, the facility was handling 250 tons a day, or 7,500 tons per month, and Van der Linde says that number is climbing. In a few months, a second machine capable of recycling household garbage will be operational, which could spell doom for the Authority.
As the Authority announced on April 27, revenues at the Ivy transfer station have dropped 11 percent, and at the Zion Crossroads station, which happens to be right beside Van der Linde's facility, revenues have dropped 44 percent. In addition, the authority's recycling revenues have dropped by 47 percent.
As a result, the Authority has moved to eliminate enough part-timers to equal two full-time positions at the McIntire Recycling Center and close the facility on Mondays. The quasi-governmental entity has also recently dipped into its own cash reserves, withdrawing an extra $100,000 to cover expenses.
Meanwhile, the Authority is continuing to pursue the lawsuit it filed against Van der Linde in January 2008, which was first brought to the public's attention in a Hook cover story [What a Waste: Is the trash Authority going obsolete?], as the Authority had kept their actions secret from its own citizens advisory board, Charlottesville City Council, and the Albemarle Board of Supervisors. The lawsuit claims that Van der Linde's drivers for his decade-old dumpster business systematically lied about the origins of their trash at a time when Van der Linde's company still used the Authority's Zion Crossroads transfer station, thereby avoiding a $16 "service contribution fee," a charge that has kept the Authority afloat financially ever since the Ivy landfill was closed in 2001.
Van der Linde calls the lawsuit "absurd," given the fact that he would have had to convince all his drivers to go along with the scheme, that Allied Waste, the owner of the Zion Crossroads transfer station, actually charges more for out-of-district waste, and that the tipping station's attendants rarely asked about trash origins anyway. In fact, Van der Linde says, he has hours of video and audio tape, taken by a private investigator he hired, showing that attendants at the station rarely asked.
What's more, as revealed in a Hook story [Wasted revenue? Authority realized in 2005 station didn’t track origins], the Authority discovered in 2005, seven years after the deal with Allied and their Zion transfer station was made, that Allied employees were “completely unaware” of their duty to collect the $16 “service contribution fee” that the RSWA is claiming Van der Linde conspired to avoid, an oversight that may have cost the RSWA million in lost revenue. Authority officials have yet to aknowledged the oversight publically.
Authority officials have long refused to comment on the lawsuit, and have continued to keep local government officials in the dark. County supervisor Ken Boyd, who was recently appointed to the Authority's board, says he has yet to be briefed on the lawsuit. Fellow supervisor Dennis Rooker also admits to knowing nothing about the lawsuit, saying it was not something that was ever discussed.
"I'm asking to be brought up to date," says Boyd, "but can't really comment now, and may not even after I have the facts depending on the status of the legal action."
Meanwhile, supervisor Sally Thomas, although she says she commends Van der Linde's recycling effort, appears to support the Authority's actions.
"The rest of us, who don’t have the ability to escape the fees, should be glad that the Authority is making sure large hauling companies are not escaping without paying," says Thomas. "This suit was filed before that operation started and involves charges that full payment was being avoided."
Authority director Tom Frederick did not return the Hook's call for comment, but in a prepared statement released this week the Authority finally broke their silence on the lawsuit, calling Van der Linde's radio appearances "inappropriate" and urging the public "not to pre-judge the case" on the basis of his comments.
“Evidence obtained by the Authority to date supports a claim that Container Rentals and Mr. van der Linde have deprived the Authority of revenue in the form of service contribution fees lawfully due to it," says Frederick. "The Authority believes it is entirely appropriate to enforce its rights to revenue due it rather than resorting to taxpayer funds, and the Authority will continue to press its claim."
Just recently, Van der Linde says the Authority served 42 of his employees and customers with subpoenas to testify in the case against him. The lawsuit, which is expected to culminate in a four-day jury trial in the Spring of 2010, could cost the Authority nearly $400,000. And quite possibly some embarrassment.
"They're not going to go quietly into that good-night, are they?," asked WINA's Coy Barefoot, who interviewed Van der Linde on his radio program May 21, alluding to the ongoing lawsuit and the Authority's financial problems in the face of Van der Linde's operation.
"No, they're going to go kicking and screaming," replied Van der Linde, " but it's an exercise in futility."
"It's an attack on a private citizen, funded by tax-payer money," intoned Schilling, calling the lawsuit "frivolous" and challenging his listeners to press city and county officials to "lay the heck off Van der Linde recycling."
"No credit to me," says Van der Linde, speaking of his recycling facility, "it's just a better mouse trap. It's the horse and buggy giving way to the motor car."
In his radio appearences, Van der Linde suggested that the Authority is continuing to pursue its lawsuit against him because his business is a threat to them financially, but Frederick took issue with that notion, saying the lawsuit was "in no way related" to Van der Linde's current recycling operation. The lawsuit, says Frederick, "is strictly about enforcing the Authority’s right to funds owed to it over the past several years."
"When the facts of the lawsuit are available to the public," Frederick continues, "the public will see the issue in a much different way than is currently being presented by Mr. van der Linde."
Ironically, by the time the Authority's lawsuit against Van der Linde goes to court, the Authority could land in a precarious financial position.
As Frederick has stated publicly on several occasions, absent sufficient waste volume, both a service contribution fee and the “free” programs it supports (e.g., McIntire Recycling Center) would be unsustainable. In addition, the City's waste agreement with the RSWA expires at the end of June next year, at which time the City could decide to part ways with the Authority.
Steve Lawson, head of Charlottesville's public service, told the Hook recently, "Right now, we have two collection contracts, but we could potentially have one," referring to Van der Linde's operation. "We need to take a look at that."
As for the County, Van der Linde, on Barefoot's show, reiterated his long-standing offer to supply recycling containers without charge to the County and its citizens, replacing what he calls the outdated "McIntire Model," which is the now-curtailed McIntire Recycling Center.
"I can do twenty McIntire's," says Van der Linde, describing how his containers could be placed at many different locations and could accept all kinds of trash–- not just bottles, cans, and paper. Plus, there would be no need for people to separate their recyclables.
"They would be open twenty-four-seven, require no staff, no separating, and would be absolutely free to the County. I've pitched this 'till the cows come home, but nobody is listening."
Updated June 1, 2009 1:07pm