Editorial: The GFL fiasco offers a rich lesson in the balance of power | Editorial
SUMMER brings with it all kinds of sweet scents. Honeysuckle, lily, iris, the air after a thunderstorm. But it’s the stench from the recent chaotic garbage service transition that’s got residential and commercial customers in Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania and Stafford talking this year.
GFL Environmental entered the Fredericksburg market in 2021, but caught people’s attention when it acquired both County Waste and Shifflett’s Waste Services. An article published by our newspaper on July 19 highlighted numerous complaints from local residential customers who report that GFL has gone days, sometimes weeks, without picking up trash.
Steve Cameli and Paul Stoddard, owners of the Sunken Well Tavern on Littlepage Street in Fredericksburg, report that when GFL took over the company often only picked up once a week – the restaurant is under contract for a 3-day pick-up per week.
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“Things are looking better,” Cameli told The Free Lance-Star, but he says GFL still misses from time to time.
This is a big problem for a restaurant that produces a lot of waste.
Cameli says he heard that GFL was struggling to meet its obligations because it couldn’t find enough workers.
The Free Lance–Star has learned, however, that this issue should be resolved soon.
Stafford Supervisor Tom Coen told the newspaper that in a July 21 meeting between Stafford County Administrator Randal Vosburg, Rappahannock Regional Solid Waste Council Director Phil Hathcock and a representative of GFL, the company told the two county chiefs that it now had enough workers to handle the workload.
Additionally, GFL has adjusted its routes to ensure it meets its obligations.
However, waste collection is not the only problem people face.
Bob Ponzo is the finance officer for American Legion Post 290 in Stafford County. Since GFL took over, it has seen a sharp increase in bills from the three dumpsters the post maintains. Around April or May, he says, his bill includes both “environmental and energy surcharges.” And these surcharges are significant, “representing an increase of around 40 to 45%” in the monthly bill.
Cameli and Ponzo say calling the GFL office in our area is of no use.
The Free Lance–Star has made several attempts to contact GFL Environmental Managing Director Danny Shifflett to resolve the issues facing GFL. He did not answer.
If GFL has indeed resolved the pickup issues that have plagued the company this spring and summer, we extend a heartfelt thank you. However, there are still questions about invoicing. We hope that the company will now provide customers with the information they rightly deserve on this subject.
So what can we learn from all of this?
Over the past 40 to 50 years, bashing the government has become an increasingly popular pastime. Instead, people are quick to want to celebrate “free market capitalism” as the solution to almost everything that ails us.
Free-market capitalism, however, left unchecked, leads to exactly the kind of smelly problems our region faced this spring and summer with GFL.
Because antitrust funding from the state attorney general to analyze mergers and ensure they don’t undermine competition is sorely lacking, GFL and other companies encounter little resistance when entering a market like ours.
“It’s safe to say,” Benjamin Litchfield wrote in a commentary for The Free Lance–Star on June 19, “GFL Environmental’s acquisition of County Waste and Shifflett’s fits the description of a deal that significantly lessens competition. ” It should have been studied before being approved.
This is not to say that government or free market capitalism are the enemy here. It is the power imbalance between the two that is at issue.
In the GFL merger, free market capitalism held all the cards and the end result left a foul odor in our community.
It’s time to balance the books of power, so that a thousand fragrant enterprises may flourish.