Fairfax board rejects extension of controversial Lorton landfill’s use


Greg Cave sorts through construction debris for recyclable materials at Lorton Construction Debris Landfill Jan. 24, 2014. (Dayna Smith/For The Washington Post)

In a vote Tuesday that reflected the deep community divisions around a plan to extend the life of an industrial landfill in Lorton, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors decided to close the landfill several years earlier than its owner wanted.

The 6-to-4 vote came after several attempts to compromise on the plan, which pitted local concerns about truck traffic against broader hopes to develop green energy technology in a rapidly transforming area of the county that overlooks the Occoquan River.

A final proposal by Enviro­Solutions sought to keep its landfill open through 2025, pursuing a suggestion by board Chairman Sharon Bulova (D) in an effort to find agreement between the Manassas-based company and Lorton community leaders.

With the vote, the landfill is scheduled to close at the end of 2018, the date promised after a 2006 agreement that allowed EnviroSolutions to raise the peak of the mountain of industrial waste to 412 feet, county officials said.

“Public trust and confidence in our land-use decision-making process is at stake,” Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) said, referring to that agreement during a lengthy, sometimes angry statement.

If the landfill isn’t closed in 2018, “we may never know when it will be closed,” Hyland said.

In proposals in the fall, EnviroSolutions sought to extend the life of the landfill until 2040. That target date stirred intense opposition from Lorton community leaders who wanted to see the closure of what they consider an eyesore in an area that was once dominated by heavy industry and is now home to new residential subdivisions and shopping centers.

Lorton is also home to a former District prison. The Workhouse Arts Center now operates there, and there is a $188 million proposal to build new apartments, townhouses and retail shops on another part of the site. Community leaders said that plan would be undermined by allowing the landfill to remain open longer.

EnviroSolutions argued that the area will still need an industrial landfill after its site closes, and it sought to win over county supervisors and community groups by offering to help county officials create a “Green Energy Triangle” in Lorton.

In its final proposal, the company agreed to develop a solar farm on the 250-acre site.

The company also agreed to restrict truck traffic at the landfill and at a nearby recycling center that EnviroSolutions owns.

Those elements of the proposal illustrated the company’s “willingness to compromise and address the objectives of a diverse set of stakeholders,” said Conrad Mehan, a lobbyist for EnviroSolutions.

After several meetings since the company first proposed its plan last fall, Lorton community leaders continued to express concerns about various issues.

In the most recent plan, the company proposed to build an earthen berm as high as 25 feet around the site, down from a 70-foot-high berm proposed originally.

Community groups were angry at the new height, saying it was still more than the 20-foot height sought by the board last month — an issue raised by several supervisors when they realized that there also would be a 22-foot-high retaining wall at the site.

“We sit here and get eye-
popping information all the time,” said Supervisor John W. Foust (D-Dranesville), referring to several revisions in the proposal. He voted against the plan.

Supporters of the proposal cited the potential long-term benefits of green energy at the site and the need to continue using a landfill for construction debris.

“This does have countywide implications,” said Bulova, referring to local business groups’ support for the EnviroSolutions plan.

Critics argued that a $1 million trust fund that was to be set up by EnviroSolutions to maintain the berm once the site closed was insufficient. Such a trust fund is no longer in the works now that the plan is dead, officials said.

Nicholas Firth, president of the South County Federation, a homeowners group, expressed joy about the plan’s failure.

“It is a shame that more supervisors did not vote to uphold their previous commitment, but we are happy with the outcome,” Firth said, adding that there are more details about the landfill to be worked out.

One question is a park that was promised to the community by EnviroSolutions, he said.

Under the 2006 agreement, EnviroSolutions committed to creating a park on the site after the landfill closes. But the company said when submitting its plan for an extension that it can’t meet that agreement because of insurance liability.

Antonio covers government, politics and other regional issues in Fairfax County. He worked in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago before joining the Post in September of 2013.
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