BRISTOL, Va. — Residents likely won’t see results from current efforts to reduce the stench generated by the city landfill until December or January, and any decision to close the facility would likely involve years, City Manager Randy Eads told the City Council on Tuesday.
Eads spent nearly 30 minutes briefing the council on ongoing work at the landfill, a potential timeline for completion and an overview of the steps and reviews that would be required if the council ultimately votes to shutter the landfill ahead of schedule.
Minutes after he finished, two members of the public again called for closing the landfill and ceasing operations in response to widespread complaints about foul odors on both sides of the state line.
“I understand what people are going through because I’m going through this as well,” Mayor Anthony Farnum said after the meeting. “Closure of the landfill and fixing the smell are two different things. The most immediate concern right now is we have to fix the smell, now. Even if we closed the landfill, we’re still going to smell the smell if we don’t fix it the proper way right now.”
Farnum noted the council has twice appropriated funds to install new gas wells and collect the gas — which is believed to be the primary odor source — and those efforts are underway.
“I’m optimistic we’ll see some relief soon,” the mayor said.
Drilling new gas wells began Sept. 15, and the contractor has completed eight wells thus far, reaching depths of between 72 and 114 feet, Eads told the council.
The last well is expected to be completed by Oct. 8, but one or two additional wells may be needed, depending on the recommendations of the city’s engineering consultants, Draper Aden Associates.
Once all of the wells are completed, crews will begin installing thousands of feet of pipe to connect the new wells, link them to the existing gas collection system, test the wells and begin pushing more gas into the system. That work is expected to be done on or before Dec. 31, Eads said.
“It’s my hope it will be sooner than that,” Eads said in response to a question. “My hope is we complete it in November, but there are too many variables, like the supply chain, whether or not we’ll be able to have everything on-site and complete the work [before December].”
Installation also began Monday on an odor mitigation pilot project to spray a mist designed to neutralize odors, Eads said.
The council previously approved funding for four additional employees at the landfill, but, thus far, the city has received no applicants for any of those positions, Eads said.
Eads acknowledged public calls for closing the landfill but told the council — if they ultimately decide to proceed — that process would still take years.
“There are about eight items that have to be done before the DEQ will even consider closing that landfill,” Eads said. “We could stop putting trash in that landfill today, but that is not going to fix the odor issue people are suffering from. The engineers will be presenting the true issues associated with closing this landfill [at the next meeting]. What I presented was a timeline of things we have to look at as we move through this process. The real issues the council and public are going to have to consider moving forward will be presented Oct. 12.”
During his remarks, Eads discussed some potential timelines to complete all the work needed to address landfill issues and how that could relate to closure.
Before submitting a closure plan to state and federal regulators, the city would have to complete the gas well project and inspect and repair “wet” wells, which involves installing a pump to remove water. That work is expected to begin later this year. The list also included additional liner installation — expected to begin in July 2022 — and installing a 1-million-gallon wastewater storage tank and air stripper filtration system to address benzene — to be completed in June 2024, Eads said.
“June 2024 would be a time we could actually have a serious discussion about how we move forward with that landfill. However, I know the community wants us to do something sooner than that; so does the council — the landfill staff and I do,” Eads said, adding that his timelines are based on a series of assumptions.
On his potential timeline, the council and engineers could consider specific issues regarding closure from now until June 2022. If the council approves closing the landfill years ahead of schedule, that assumes the engineers can “come up with a plan they’re willing to sign off on for closure and that DEQ and EPA would also approve it,” Eads said.
Closing the facility would require the engineers to draft a proposed closure plan, which could take 12 or more months to complete, Eads said after speaking with the city’s consultants.
“Just to be conservative and not give anyone false hope, I would estimate the closure plan would be complete in December 2023, and in January 2024, that plan would be submitted to DEQ for review,” Eads said. “In a phone call yesterday with DEQ, they indicated a review of that plan would probably take two years, so probably January 2026 before DEQ [and EPA] either approves or denies that closure plan.”
Eads said if such a closure plan were approved, actually closing the landfill is a highly regulated process that could take until June 2027.
Tuesday’s discussion made no mention of the landfill’s long-term general obligation bond debt that city taxpayers are responsible for repaying. Asked about the financial aspect, Eads said that doesn’t include mandated monitoring and post-closure costs.
“There is $34 million that still has to be repaid associated with the landfill. Finances are not the driving force behind the decisions we’ll make going forward; it’s a quality-of-life issue we have to correct for our citizens. But people need to remember this landfill has cost the city $83 million. The city has not made a dime from this landfill. We didn’t make a dime from it today, and we didn’t make a dime from it in 1998. It cost the city more than The Falls will ever cost the city, and it will cost for eternity because we have to monitor that landfill forever.”
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