BRISTOL, Va. — Walking through the Sugar Hollow Park wetlands is a calming, rejuvenating opportunity to reconnect with nature.
Tucked away within the 400-acre park at the city’s eastern corporate limits, is the designated wetlands space — 15 acres including a bridge trail — where visitors can enjoy ponds and plants and wildlife along a segment of Beaver Creek, just a short distance from the park roadway.
What many visitors may not comprehend is the space exists because — more than 20 years ago — the city got in some trouble with its previous landfill.
Today a team from SCS Services is installing the third round of gas wells within the city’s embattled quarry landfill. A few years ago city leaders learned their existing gas wells weren’t performing and a second series of wells was completed — all in an effort to address widespread health concerns regarding the stench generated by the landfill.
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History, it seems, can repeat itself.
On March 8, 2002, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality issued a notice of violation because it believed there were violations of the Air Pollution Control Law at the previous city landfill — a smaller operation near the present quarry landfill — operating under permit number 498.
The 2002 notice cited the city of Bristol, Virginia, for its failure to install a gas collection system. The city previously submitted a plan for collection and control of landfill gas on July 8, 1999, and was to have the collection system installed by Jan. 10, 2001, to comply with regulations.
It failed to do so, according to DEQ documents supplied to the Bristol Herald Courier in response to a Freedom of Information request.
In October 2002, DEQ completed an enforcement recommendation and plan, which outlined the issues.
“City of Bristol, Virginia failed to install gas collection and control system in Landfill #498 within the time period specified in the plan submitted on July 8, 1999, by the city for landfills #221 and 498. The city of Bristol, Virginia contends that because they are mining this landfill [of trash] that they are not required to install the collection system. There is no allowance to allow for delay of the installation of the control system and at the time the plan was submitted in 1999 there was already a permit to mine landfill #498 and the plan should have been implemented,” according to the 2002 document.
The city negotiated an agreement, resulting in a consent order issued by a court on Oct. 18, 2002, which required the city to install the gas collection system — one designed on a much smaller scale than the latest system currently being installed in the quarry landfill under a 2023 state consent order.
Additional documents show the city submitted its gas well system plans in June 2002.
“This was confirmed with EPA and the state. It is recommended that a CO [consent order] be issued with a civil charge of $18,000 assessed, with a mitigation of 30% because the city responded immediately when a decision was made. The city has agreed to do a SEP [supplemental environmental project] for partial payment of the civil charge,” according to the document.
However the plan subsequently recommended the civil charge be set at $12,600 and the supplemental environmental project would be done to reduce the civil charge to just $126.
Gas well work occurred that fall and the system was completed and formally went online in October 2002. But there was a problem with one of the extraction wells, as detailed in a December 2002 memo to DEQ that might sound all too familiar to anyone familiar with the present landfill crisis and the steps being taken to resolve it.
“We have been experiencing a lot of wet weather conditions since start up which has caused the well to retain water. Water has been measured above the slotted gas flow area and drainage out of well has been slow due to the saturated surrounding area,” according to the memo. “Methane performance has been low and the well has remained in the off position except for a three-day period of time. While waiting for the methane to increase the oxygen content was monitored on November 22, 2002, at over 5%. The oxygen content has been re-monitored within the 5 and 15-day time frame allowed ... and is still above the 5% mark.
“The city has sought consultation from SCS Engineers for application of corrective measures,” the memo continued. “We plan to place pumps in two wells and in the self-draining trap on the east side of landfill #498 to alleviate the water problem. We believe that the oxygen content and methane performance will improve with the water removed within a 120-day time frame of the first exceedance. Pumps have been ordered and are set for delivery and installation the first part of January 2003.”
Simultaneously, the city successfully negotiated an agreement to do an environmental enhancement project in lieu of a substantial fine.
In August 2002, the city first unveiled its plans for the wetlands area to the TVA and other impacted partners.
“It was our opinion, and the VADEQ concurred, that this effort was of more public benefit than the payment of the monetary fine. We have maintained a constant dialogue with VADEQ throughout the development of this project and they have approved the project in concept, pending review and approval by TVA. I am advised by VADEQ that no permit from them is required for this work,” former City Manager W.A. ‘Bill” Dennison wrote in an August 2002 letter.
Work began on the wetlands project in February 2003, according to a DEQ notice. A subsequent notice showed the work was delayed by inclement weather and a revised expected completion date was July 2003.
An August 2003 DEQ notice reported the project was essentially complete and included receipts for more than $21,000 in materials.
An attached city document shows the city spent nearly $92,000 including charges for use of its construction equipment, over $10,000 in leased equipment, $37,500 city employee labor and $17,700 in operational expenses.
DEQ deemed the case closed in August 2003. Finishing touches were applied and the wetlands trail was formally open to the public in spring 2004.
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