By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s Office is ducking questions about why she never alerted Broward cities and consumers about pricing and other protections secured for them in 2015 in exchange for not opposing Waste Management’s $525-million acquisition of Southern Waste Systems and Sun Recycling.
The protections were spelled out in a December 2015 letter listing a half-dozen “agreements or commitments” made by Waste Management and its companies at the conclusion of the state’s antitrust investigation, but were only made public May 30 by Florida Bulldog. Chief among them: a pledge that Broward municipalities would be allowed to renew their five-year single stream recycling contracts when they expired “on the same terms, conditions and prices as the initial term.”
Those contracts expire Tuesday, spelling both higher disposal costs and a practical end to popular recycling programs in parts of the county.
“We are hoping it will be a very, very brief period,” said Sunrise City Manager Richard Salamon, chair of the county’s Solid Waste Working Group. “We can’t just give up on recycling.”
News of the letter’s existence sent shock waves through the 17 cities with recycling contracts with Sun Bergeron, a joint venture of two upstart partners now at odds in court, Sun Recycling and Bergeron Environmental and Recycling. Those cities represent about half of Broward’s nearly two million residents.
For its part, Bergeron has told cities it wants to renew the existing municipal recycling agreements under the same terms and conditions. But Sun senior representative John Casagrande has said Sun Bergeron won’t renew under existing pricing “because such a renewal allegedly would be opposed by Waste Management,” according to a June 4 letter by Sunrise lawyer David Dee.
Mayors ask to meet with Bondi
Besides upending contract renewal negotiations, the letter prompted the mayors or attorneys for Sunrise, Coconut Creek, Margate and Weston to seek a meeting with Bondi or her staff to – as Weston Mayor Daniel Stermer put it – “discuss the current anticompetitive environment and whether there is anything that can be done by you to address the situation.” Weston, while not among the 17 Sun Bergeron cities, is poised to seek bids for solid waste disposal, collection and recycling services and is “very concerned that because of the transaction there will not be a competitive market available,” Stermer wrote.
A public records request for correspondence between the state and Waste Management was filed with the Attorney General’s Office by Miramar City Attorney Jamie Cole.
Meanwhile, at a court hearing last week, a Broward judge blocked Bergeron Recycling’s effort to depose Bondi’s top antitrust attorney, Lizabeth Brady, about the letter she wrote. Chief Judge Jack Tuter indicated, however, that he may allow Brady’s deposition to be taken at a future date – possibly with him refereeing the proceedings in person.
Outside the courtroom, Senior Assistant Attorney General Charles J.F. Schreiber Jr. was asked to comment on why his office did not inform anyone in Broward about the 2015 letter or its contents. He instead referred a reporter to Bondi spokesman Whitney Ray. Ray did not return phone messages requesting comment.
The Attorney General’s Office was more responsive to cities, explaining that closing letters and the agreements or commitments they recount don’t really mean much and that the office now has “no legitimate basis for pursing the matter.”
“The letter is not an agreement or an approval and merely recites certain statements made by the parties to the proposed acquisition regarding their intentions based upon existing market conditions at the time – in this case, 2015,” wrote Chief Deputy Attorney General Patricia A. Conners in a Friday letter copied to every Broward mayor.
“Their response was basically a defense of the industry. They basically parroted Waste Management’s argument,” said Salamon.
AG to asks questions
Still, while Conners offered no explanation as to why the attorney general kept secret its understanding with Waste Management, she said her office is willing to take a fresh look to see if there are “unlawful causes for Waste Management’s proposed rate hikes in Broward County.” She asked cities to make their waste disposal staff available “for interviews as soon as practical.”
“We also welcome any information or documentation you wish to send us for our review,” she wrote.
Whether cities have such documentation is doubtful. Until the recent public disclosure of the attorney general’s December 2015 letter they were mostly resigned to accepting a doubling of recycling rates demanded by Waste Management and Sun (now known as LGL Recycling).
Interested regulators, however, would appear to have another avenue to obtain such documentation. At Wednesday’s court hearing, Bergeron Environmental attorney Mitchell Berger all but dared Bondi’s office to subpoena him, telling the judge he has confidential Waste Management records detailing “serious omissions and misrepresentations” about the SWS/Sun acquisition that he isn’t allowed to show the attorney general.
Berger obtained the documents under the terms of a confidentiality agreement with Waste Management’s attorneys that his client agreed to in order to facilitate access to the Houston-based company’s records during the court’s pre-trial discovery process.
Court filings say Waste Management has produced in excess of 100,000 internal records in discovery since the case began in 2016 – nearly all of which have been filed under seal.
Time running out
With recycling contracts fast running out, Coral Springs recently inked a deal with Waste Management that includes a doubled fee – to $96-a-ton – that may serve as a template upon which other municipalities might piggyback.
The 17 cities with expiring Sun Bergeron contracts are Coconut Creek, Coral Springs, Deerfield Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Hillsboro Beach, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Lauderhill, Margate, Miramar, North Lauderdale, Oakland Park, Pembroke Park, Plantation, Sunrise, Tamarac, West Park and Wilton Manors.
Sunrise, which generates 5,000 tons of recyclables a year, has balked at piggybacking, citing certain unpalatable contract provisions regarding contamination of material collected for recycling that could drive the city’s costs even higher.
“It is intolerable contract language because it creates too much risk,” said City Manager Salamon.
So what will Sunrise do if the offending language cannot be negotiated away?
Recyclables that residents now set aside in separate bins will end up at the same place where its municipal solid waste and bulk trash will go as of Tuesday – the Wheelabrator trash-to-energy incinerator on State Road 7 in Fort Lauderdale. Tonnage that Wheelabrator does not have the capacity to handle will be dumped in a landfill.
Steve Schwin / July 2, 2018 6:37 pm
This is just silly. We are supposed to believe Bergeron and his attorney have super secret evidence of fraud and misrepresentation that he can’t show the Attorney General, who is the state’s top Law Enforcement Officer, or the court.
I was born at night, but not last night.
Carl Buehler / July 27, 2018 1:21 am
Attorney General Pam Bondi is the target of the lawsuit being in collusion with Waste Management. She has relinquished her role as the state’s top Law Enforcement Officer by failure to enforce the law. Why would any lawyer give investigative evidence to the target of an investigation or lawsuit until called for in discovery?
The facts are that Pam Bondi “accidentally” failed to inform 17 Broward Cities of a “letter of understanding” with Waste Management whereby Waste Management would provide a window of opportunity for those cities to renew the existing Sun-Bergeron contracts at the existing rate of $51/ton for five years?
When one city “accidentally” discovered this “letter of understanding” months later in an errant email just days before this “window of opportunity” for same rate renewal expired, and then tried to enact that renewal, Waste Management BALKED. Claiming that the so called “letter of understanding” for guaranteed renewals on which the Attorney General approved the buyout, was simply a proposal but “not contractual” in approving the merger. We need more daylight shining on this deal signed some dark night.
By what excuse does the Attorney General fail to notify cities of an State approved merger that would create a MONOPOLY in waste collection in Broward county? Ron Bergeron was the only waste hauler in the nation who had successfully avoided takeover by Waste Management. Wayne has tried to take old cowboy Ron down for the last 20 years. Ron was too tough for them, and they knew better than to burn his trucks. Boss Ron still caries six shooters and knows how to use them. So Wayne basically shot him in the back, Huzienga privately offered a huge above market price to SWS, Southern Waste Systems that operated the waste to energy incinerator for Bergeron who hauled the garbage to the incinerator in their joint venture. Everybody was happy making good money. Until Huzienga wrestled control of SWS, then he locked out Bergeron and that was the endgame after over 20 years of fighting.
Waste Management immediately DOUBLED the waste hauling rate from the $51/ton (that the joint venture Sun-Bergeron had been charging 17 cities in Broward), to $96/ton, and up to $106/ton with added contamination fees. After all, once Waste Management finally won their Monopoly game, what are cities going to do? Seven of the 17 are suing the Attorney General for “approving” the illegal buyout, but given the way the “Open for Business” Governor has populated the State Courts with his business cronies, the cities are screwed.
Rick Scott did the same thing after hurricane Irma allowing his favorite out of state companies to come in tripling the hurricane debris removal rates of $4 to $7/yard that had been previously contracted for.
A few days after the storm Governor Scott arbitrarily declared all hurricane debris contracts void at noon and opened bidding for only 12 hours, closing at noon the next day. Two local south Florida haulers didn’t even have time to bid. Surprise, the new contracts from out of state haulers came in over $12 to 18/yard across the board statewide. So that is what our cities paid, even if they had a pre-existing negotiated FEMA approved contract for $5/yard. Rick Scott claimed his legal right to void all municipal contracts by declaring a “state emergency” which is like legal martial law.
Another reference with the VOICE of mayors themselves: http://www.wlrn.org/post/price-recycling-skyrockets-broward-county-and-one-city-isnt-paying