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Bristol Virginia City Council mulls landfill; gas wells ‘the only option,’ manager says
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Bristol Virginia City Council mulls landfill; gas wells ‘the only option,’ manager says

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BRISTOL, Va. — A city consultant said Tuesday that current odor mitigation efforts will resolve the city’s landfill problems, but it will likely be December before there is any relief.

Ernie Hoch, manager of solid waste and environmental services of Draper Aden Associates, told the City Council and about 20 assembled residents that the current efforts to drill a series of wells into the landfill, collect and dispose of landfill gas and remove underground water will alleviate the stench currently permeating the Twin City air.

“This is the only option,” Hoch said in response to a question. “When I say it will fix it, if this doesn’t mitigate enough odor, the next step would be to do more wells. There really isn’t any other option. If tomorrow you closed the landfill, we would still have to drill the same amount of wells. We would create a bigger disaster.”

Hoch compared it to a hospital triage situation where they are trying to solve the greatest problem first and then address other issues at the Shakesville Road facility.

The city recently contracted with a firm to drill 17 wells into the quarry landfill with plans to connect those wells to an expanded gas collection system to route that methane gas either to the flare and burn it off or to the Ingenco energy generation station that operates there — to turn more of it into electricity.

The amount of gas collected, to this point, is double the previous level but still well below what the landfill is expected to produce, Hoch said.

Drilling began last Friday on the first well, but at 70 feet, the drilling rig broke down, Hoch said. Work is scheduled to resume today with a goal of drilling one well per day and completing that work by early October.

Hoch said it will likely then take another four to six weeks to connect all of the wells and for the public to notice the odors diminish or subside.

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“What’s changed is the [existing] gas wells that aren’t functioning properly because they got flooded in,” Hoch said. “We will bring this landfill back to pre-2020 smell condition. Every expectation is we get these 17 wells in, we’ll be able to capture enough odor and gas that it will eliminate the constant problem you’re having. That’s not to say there won’t be problems. Occasionally you might get a smell, but it’s going to dramatically change. … Most landfills, some days, you might get a whiff, but it’s not an everyday, terribly offensive odor.”

Mayor Anthony Farnum asked if the process could be expedited with more crews, overtime pay or other means.

“The speed at which we’re doing it right now — one well at a time — there is no way to know what is going on underneath the landfill. So each well is telling us a story, and we’re mapping this story out. There are a number of engineers we’re talking with to come up with the best solution,” Hoch said. “We may need another well, or we may need to go a little deeper, or we may come back to you and say we need four more [wells].”

Hoch said one well per day is probably the right pace, given the environment they’re working in and the precision with which they’re working.

“I think we’re moving as fast as we can. I wish we would have been drilling two months ago, but there was a lot to go into that,” Hoch said. “We say we’re going down 110 feet, but we have to make sure [of] the distance to the bottom of the landfill. We don’t want to drill right through the liner, so we have to constantly measure and survey.”

Farnum said he appreciates and shares the public’s concerns.

“These folks are the experts, and we have to trust the experts,” Farnum said after the meeting. “They’re confident their plan will work regarding the new gas wells going into the landfill. It’s an emotional topic, a sensitive topic. Everyone is affected by this. Everyone smells it, including myself, my family, my children. Our job is to continue to push until it gets done right and gets done as quickly as possible.”

Vice Mayor Neal Osborne acknowledged some have urged the city to close the landfill, but it isn’t that simple.

“We’re between a rock and a hard place on that,” Osborne said. “We have tens of millions of dollars in debt associated with this landfill that got it off the ground and operating. If this shuts down too quickly, it becomes a burden on our taxpayers. … We need to make sure it’s safe and not a burden on people’s lives.”

A separate pilot program using an odor neutralization system is expected to begin later this month, Hoch said in response to a question by Councilman Bill Hartley. Hoch said they will select a couple of specific areas to spray the liquid substance, which is designed to attach itself to the molecules of odious gas and drop it to the ground.

In other matters, the council approved paying three bills to Draper Aden Associates totaling $129,000, including $25,000 for design of the gas collection system expansion, $56,900 for gas well installation and on-site observation and $47,100 for quality control of the gas collection system expansion.

dmcgee@bristolnews.com | 276-645-2532 | Twitter: @DMcGeeBHC

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