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Louisa considers bringing in the outside trash

Posted on Thursday, April 5, 2012 at 9:17 am

By Brian Cain

Louisa County could soon begin importing solid waste from nearby locales in the hopes of turning their trash piles into local treasure.

While awarding a $2.5 million contract for the construction of a new landfill cell during a March 19 Louisa County Board of Supervisors regular meeting, board members added a stipulation which prohibited importing trash from more than two surrounding jurisdictions.

The language doesn’t nullify the existing landfill ordinance—enacted as emergency legislation in May 2004—which bans the disposal of all garbage that does not originate within the county. But it does pave the way for a repeal and potentially opens up additional funding sources for the county.

“In this case, the board feels that this could be a source of additional revenue to offset the unfunded mandates coming out of Richmond,” said Robert Dubé, county administrator. “And anytime we can look to ways of increasing revenue, we potentially reduce the burden to the taxpayer in the long run.”

The county is facing a number of unfunded state and federal mandates including an increase in Virginia Retirement System payments, changes to state dam regulations and a Federal Communications Commission narrowbanding project.

The legislation changes could cost the county millions in an already tight budget cycle where earthquake-related school rebuilding projects are expected to cost the county more than $6.5 million.

Willie Gentry, Cuckoo district, said that board members have discussed numerous potential revenue streams in response to a tough budget year and that importing trash “was one idea that was put on the table.”

But Gentry added that while board members have discussed the possibility of lifting the ban at the Pendleton landfill located in his district, they haven’t made any decisions.

“There’s no commitment at this point and there is a lot of work to be done with public input,” Gentry said. “I don’t know that we’ll get enough votes to change the ordinance to begin with.”

To repeal the ordinance, supervisors are required to hold a public hearing before they can vote on the issue.

Gentry said that importing trash from other counties is a sensitive topic for many county residents—especially those in his district.

“When the issue came up about eight years ago, Cuckoo constituents said ‘Absolutely no outside trash.’ They took a very strong stand,” Gentry said. “They could change their opinion, but we have to go through the process.”

A public hearing is tentatively scheduled for May.

Construction of the existing landfill cell begin in 1976 and began accepting trash shortly thereafter, according to landfill consulting engineers.

Kevin Linhares, Louisa County general services director, said that although the cell  could accept solid waste for approximately two more years, the county is required to close the existing cell by the end of 2012, because it does not meet Virginia Department of Environmental Quality standards which were enacted in 1993.

The regulations banned the use of landfills without protective liners and collection systems to control leachate and placed non-conforming landfills on a graduated closing schedule.

Closure of the existing cell is estimated to cost $1.8 million and post-closure care—which includes monitoring methane emissions for 30 years—is expected to cost an additional $850,000.

Construction of the new cell—which will cost an estimated $2.5 million—will include an alternative geosynthetic liner instead of a standard two-foot compacted soil layer.

“It provides the same saturation rate as the compacted soil liner and it’s approved by DEQ,” Linhares said. He added that choosing a synthetic liner instead of a compacted soil liner provides a cost savings of approximately $700,000.

The closure and monitoring of the existing cell by DEQ and construction of the new cell will be funded from the capital improvements landfill development budget.

“The county started funding the new cell about eight years ago,” Linhares said. “And we have all the funds that we need for the construction of the new cell and the closure and the post closure care of the existing cell.”

The new cell will be constructed in three seven-acre phases with a life expectancy of 10 years each, depending on the amount of solid waste generated inside the county and whether the ban is lifted.

“Allowing outside trash would shorten the life expectancy of the new cell,” Linhares said. “But it would depend on the tonnage of waste received from those localities.”

He said that in the past three years the landfill received on average 17 tons of solid waste annually.

The 65-acre landfill site is currently permitted to use 32 acres and conservative estimates could expand the usable area to 50 acres, depending on soil conditions and regulatory changes, Linhares said.

Based on the average annual tonnage, Linhares said “the estimated waste acceptance potential for the entire landfill footprint would be 187 years.”

He said that it is difficult to determine how accepting trash from other localities would affect the landfill’s life expectancy.

“There are too many variables,” he said.

Although funding is in place for the construction of the new cell, Gentry said future funding of the site is still an issue.

“The bottom line is that the landfill isn’t paying for itself and we need to look at ways to at least break even and possibly generate additional revenue,” Gentry said.