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Montana PSC considers new garbage hauling service in Missoula

The Montana Public Business Commission is considering whether a competitive waste hauling service in Missoula County, now supplied by Republic Services of Montana, may be established.

L&L Site Services, based in Gallatin County, attempted to join the Missoula market in 2018. According to the 2019 ruling, the PSC denied the application after the matter was heard in court. A judge returned it to the regulatory body with orders to evaluate evidence differently.

“Perhaps L&L wishes it had used other techniques or gathered more information in support of its 2018 application,” L&L said in an early motion to dismiss. “However, the subject of whether L&L should be given a Class D license, and more particularly, whether Missoula County has a public need for a new carrier, has been extensively contested in a case in which the ink is barely dry.”

Last Monday, Quentin Rhoades, a lawyer for L&L, and Bill Mercer, a lawyer for Republic, presented their cases before the Public Service Commission and answered questions regarding the matter. The Public Service Commission controls monopolistic firms in the state and will determine if Missoula County needs another garbage provider. Mercer is also a Republican state legislator from Billings.

 

 

 

Eight significant customers in Missoula County, including the airport, stated they were unhappy with the Republic’s service, the price, or both. Rhoades said L&L has demonstrated it can enter a comparable market and flourish, citing Gallatin County. L&L intends to operate as Grizzly Disposal and Recycling in Missoula.

“L&L is capable of handling that type of expansion and has shown to be quite effective in managing it,” Rhoades added.

In his presentation before the PSC, Rhoades also said that residents in Missoula County pay some of the highest rates in the state, including double what consumers in Whitefish pay and three times what residents of Great Falls pay.

He also claimed that a poll revealed Missoula consumers are dissatisfied; however, Mercer subsequently presented a different interpretation of the data. According to Rhoades, a study of Missoula County residents showed that 19 percent were unsatisfied with Republic’s customer service and 17 percent were dissatisfied with the monopoly’s overall quality.

HE ADDED THAT allowing L&L to compete may be detrimental to Republic’s profitability and may be difficult for L&L itself. However, he said that competition would benefit at least one side.

“Do you know who it’s useful for?” “It’s the shippers (customers),” Rhoades said. “As a result of the competition, those prices in Gallatin County are now lower than they were before.”

On the other hand, Mercer said L&L utilized the same number of witnesses, eight, the last time around to attempt to convince the county that needed another supplier. He highlighted some of the contexts around the survey findings as part of his rebuttal. First, he said that in a neighborhood of 100,000 people, 15,000 individuals got text messages with the waste hauling survey, but only 784 chose to participate, and 224 later dropped out.

Finally, he said that 81 percent of those who replied to the poll questions satisfied Republic’s services. And he couldn’t see how that statistic proved the corporation wasn’t meeting the requirement or capable of doing so.

“Do you have a public need in this community when 15,000 people are given a question, and only 584 chose to answer it, and of that group, 81 percent say they’re delighted with the services?” Mercer of Holland and Hart stated.

He also pointed out that significant voices, such as Missoula’s elected leaders, were absent as supporters of L&L’s application. For example, when the City of Missoula was dissatisfied with the private business handling the water service, it went to court and compelled the municipality to acquire it. According to Mercer, who represented the Carlyle Group in that case, the fact that the mayor and city councilors did not turn up and insisted that L&L be permitted to service the market should be compelling in this instance.

“That’s extremely, very important in our opinion,” Mercer added.

He also mentioned the scarcity of new information from L&L since its request in 2018. Commissioners said in their 2019 ruling rejecting L&L’s application for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity that they lacked certain comparable operational and market studies, according to Mercer. He referred to elements mentioned by the PSC in the previous ruling, such as market concentration, pricing and route comparisons, and service alternatives. He observed their absence in the present docket.

“This album is devoid of it,” Mercer stated.

According to state law, the PSC will consider “public convenience and need” while deciding whether to provide a certificate to L&L. It will assess the impact of the new service on current services, among other things.

Dan Stusek of the PSC said in an email that Commission officials are putting up a memo that will be published in the case in the coming weeks: “The Commission will then convene a work session to conclude L&L’s application and will issue a written decision shortly afterward.” We anticipate a work session in the first two weeks of March.”