BRISTOL, Va. — Closing the city’s embattled landfill will be neither quick nor simple, consultants told the Bristol Virginia City Council on Tuesday.
Ernie Hoch of Draper Aden Associates and Bob Dick, regional vice president of SCS Engineering — consultants on the city’s efforts to mitigate odor problems at the landfill — spent more than an hour outlining the steps required and challenges of shutting down the city’s landfill.
Among the challenges are the physical design of the space, which is 1,500 feet long, up to 400 deep in some areas and up to 250 feet wide; its design, which doesn’t naturally shed runoff because it’s “bowl-shaped”; and the specific environmental requirements of closing an active landfill, Hoch told the council.
The presentation was in response to a public outcry to close the landfill amid widespread odor complaints for much of the past year.
“There has been a lot of [public] discussion about closing the landfill and we have to educate the community about the technical closure issues that we would face attempting to close a quarry landfill that’s only half full,” City Manager Randy Eads said after the meeting. “Not saying it can’t be done, but there are huge engineering challenges ahead in order to be able to close that landfill early. It was not designed to be closed early. This was the first step in educating the public in how we could potentially close the landfill.”
The facility off Shakesville Road was first permitted in 1996 and still has more than 20 years of usable life — meaning the quarry is nowhere near full.
Not filling the quarry to the top — as planned and as specified in the city’s state landfill permit — would mean designing a series of changes to make the facility stable, to continue capturing landfill gases and promote water runoff, Dick said.
“It was designed to cease waste acceptance at a time when the shape is convex [rounded] — a surface above the rim of the quarry such that it can shed storm water precipitation off of it,” Dick said. “What we have right now, the current waste surface has a concave shape.”
That design wouldn’t properly allow water runoff.
A typical landfill closing specifies varying depths and layers of dirt and drainage areas covered with soil to encase the waste materials. It also includes wrapping the waste in a geomembrane. Major challenges, Dick said, include making certain the waste materials are stable and don’t shift too much plus designing a system to attach the geomembrane if the landfill isn’t filled to capacity and in that prescribed shape.
Whenever the landfill is closed, the city will be responsible for 30 years of post-closing environmental monitoring.
“I don’t anticipate the engineering and design process to be cheap and it would take a significant amount of time,” Eads said. “It [design] would take 12 months to 18 months and then you have the DEQ [Department of Environmental Quality] approval process once the plan is submitted. Based on conversations with DEQ, I think that would be a two-year process, but I think you could overlap some of it.”
The landfill also carries $34 million in long-term debt. Revenues from accepting waste are dedicated to operating expenses and to make debt payments.
“It’s definitely eye-opening about how difficult the process is with so many agencies involved and engineers figuring out how to close the landfill because of its unique design,” Mayor Anthony Farnum said. “We’re definitely going to continue to have discussions about how best to move forward. It’s clear from the engineers tonight that it’s a difficult process, but we need to keep the conversation going.”
Most of the questions from council to the consultants dealt with the existing efforts to drill gas wells and collect the landfill gas believed responsible for the odors plaguing the community.
Wells are expected to be completed this week and then the process of connecting the wells to the landfill gas collection system can begin, Hoch said. That is expected to be completed by late December.
“The most immediate need is the smell people are smelling daily — at their homes, at work, at school, in parks,” Farnum said. “That’s something that’s top priority and we need to continue to make sure that is top priority until we alleviate the smell and people have some relief.”
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