In search of compromise, Fairfax defers vote on plan to extend life of Lorton landfill


The Lorton Construction Debris Landfill, owned by Envirosolutions, shown Jan. 24, 2014. (Dayna Smith for The Washington Post)

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has again deferred a vote on a controversial proposal to extend the life of an industrial landfill in Lorton.

Tuesday’s decision to delay the vote until July 29 is another twist in a months-long battle that has pitted neighbor against neighbor and led the board chairman, Sharon Bulova (D), to appoint a mediation group this year to help the search for a compromise.

Such middle ground has been elusive since EnviroSolutions first proposed keeping the landfill open until 2040, an extension of 22 years from an agreed-upon 2018 closing date. The company offered to install green technology at the site to compensate for the extension, creating a “green energy triangle” in an area that once had a D.C. prison and was dominated by heavy industry.

Some neighborhood groups supported the EnviroSolutions proposal; others vehemently opposed it. And the rift spilled over to the Board of Supervisors. The board vote was deferred once before, and there have been several iterations of the proposal to extend the closing date and increase the landfill’s capacity for construction debris.

On Tuesday, Bulova proposed trying again to find a compromise after EnviroSolutions submitted another version of its plans. This time, the company offered, among other things, to close the landfill in 2032 and to limit its peak to a maximum height of 395 feet.

“This application, while not a required component to the County’s ‘green energy triangle,’ could contribute exciting opportunities that could help to advance this goal,” Bulova said before introducing a motion to defer the vote.

The motion was approved 10 to 0.

The postponement drew harsh criticism from groups opposed to the EnviroSolutions plan. “It’s a travesty,” said Larry Clark, vice president of the South County Federation, a coalition of homeowners and citizens groups, which has led the opposition.

“This should be decided now. There is enough evidence on the table.”

Frank McDermott, an attorney for EnviroSolutions, said the company is willing to work within the framework of suggestions made by Bulova.

But Nicholas Firth, president of the South County Federation, said the two sides appear to be too far apart to reach a compromise.

“They should deny the application, and we should start this discussion all over, everybody on equal footing,” Firth said after the meeting, expressing frustration over the deferred vote. “At what point do you say this is over?”

Bulova suggested that EnviroSolutions work with county staff on what she called a “framework for compromise.”

Among the ideas she proposed were closing the landfill at the end of 2025 and doing away with plans for a berm — or, at minimum, limiting its height to 20 feet.

Bulova also suggested that EnviroSolutions avoid installing wind turbines, which community leaders and some elected officials have said would be unworkable in an area near the Mason Neck nature preserve, where bald eagles and other rare birds nest.

The revised proposal submitted by the company Tuesday had similarities to some of Bulova’s ideas but did not fully embrace them.

The company proposed closing the landfill in 2032 and lowering the height of the berm to 52 feet. EnviroSolutions says the berm is needed to support the extra landfill capacity sought by the company and to provide a sufficient platform for the green energy components it promises to build. The company also pledged to install solar panels at the site instead of wind turbines.

Bulova and some other supervisors expressed hope that a solution is in the works, but Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) said he was frustrated by what he called “preferential treatment” given to EnviroSolutions.

Hyland, whose district includes the landfill, pushed to have himself, Bulova and a member of the community directly involved with negotiations and to have EnviroSolutions formally commit to a closure date.

Hyland also suggested that the county investigate taking over the site when it closes and, eventually, converting it to a park — an idea that EnviroSolutions had committed to but then abandoned, dissuaded by insurance liability and other concerns.

“Whatever we do here, it’s got to be the end, and no more [delay] in terms of when this landfill closes,” Hyland said.

Supervisor Linda Q. Smyth (D-Providence) predicted that EnviroSolutions will have a tougher time filling the landfill as developers increasingly turn to recycling construction debris.

“This is the trend,” Smyth said, citing letters from several Tysons Corner developers. “What we’re going to see is less need for a landfill.”

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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