The owner of Haines’ only waste disposal business is asking the assembly to reconsider its stance on whether the borough should regulate the company’s rates. Now that Community Waste Solutions has a monopoly on the local solid waste market, either the state Regulatory Commission or the borough may need to take over rate regulation.
First, some background. For a while, the old city of Haines oversaw rates at Community Waste Solutions (CWS), also known as Haines Sanitation. Because of that city oversight, the Regulatory Commission of Alaska (RCA) exempted CWS from state regulation.
But when the city and borough consolidated in 2002, the local regulation went away. This lack of oversight came to the RCA’s attention recently. The commission is reviewing a request for CWS to acquire the certificate of its former competitor, Acme Transfer.
In a letter, a judge for the RCA says this acquisition would essentially give CWS an unregulated monopoly on garbage service in Haines. The RCA is asking the borough to give comments about what sort of rate regulation it would like to see before the RCA makes a decision. The choices are to give regulation authority to the RCA, the borough or both.
“Community Waste Solutions would like to stress the importance of rate regulation through the Haines Borough instead of through the RCA,” said Sally Garton, reading from a letter written by CWS owner Tom Hall. “This will help to achieve the lowest possible rate for our community.”
CWS’s preference is local regulation. Hall thinks RCA oversight would lead to a spike in rates.
It was a contentious decision for the assembly. Assembly member Heather Lende said she always leans in favor of local control. But Mike Case and Margaret Friedenauer said the borough should defer to the RCA.
“We should let [the RCA] set the rates,” said Case. “We don’t have the expertise to do it and they do.”
Assemblyman Tom Morphet objected to the assembly being asked to make a decision based on so little information. He wanted specifics about how RCA regulation would impact rates.
“It just seems like this a large decision that we’re being asked to make in the absence of any firm information,” Morphet said. “What do other communities that have a sole provider — do they regulate? I don’t have any information to make this decision.”
But Friedenauer said this is the RCA’s job. She said CWS’s claims that rates would be lower with borough regulation as opposed to the RCA hadn’t been substantiated.
“RCA will only raise the rates if they look at the profit loss and they think that the company doesn’t have enough value to cover anything that happens or to protect the customers,” Friedenauer said. “And so the RCA – that’s what they do, their mission is to protect the customer while providing for a viable business. So the rate oversight is more for our protection. And I’m just concerned that we don’t have any experience with this at all.”
The assembly was split down the middle. They voted 3-3 to recommend the RCA take over regulation. Friedenauer, Case and Ron Jackson were in favor. Morphet, Lende and Tresham Gregg were opposed. Mayor Jan Hill broke the tie vote in favor of RCA oversight.
But that might not be the end of the conversation. CWS hopes the assembly reconsiders its vote. Tom Hall petitioned the RCA for more time. In a letter to the commission, he said the borough assembly made its decision without adequate information.
The RCA granted the extension, giving the borough three more weeks to make comments. The deadline is now March 23. Hall says he plans to make his case to the assembly at the next meeting, if possible.