Lorton landfill shutdown raises questions about what happens next


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

With Tuesday’s defeat of plans to extend the life of a landfill in Lorton, the steadily transforming community once derided as “the armpit of Fairfax County” is looking at a future without being a regional hub for industrial waste.

But what that future holds remains to be seen. Below are five questions that the Lorton area and the rest of Fairfax County face as EnviroSolutions Inc. prepares to shut down its 250-acre landfill at the end of 2018:

Q: The EnviroSolutions landfill takes in between 650,000 and 1 million tons of construction debris per year. Where will all that trash go after 2018?

A: Like most municipalities these days, Fairfax County has been advocating for recycled waste more aggressively in recent years. To a large extent, that’s been happening, with debris coming out of Tysons Corner, where much of the county’s industrial waste is being generated, said Supervisor Linda Smyth (Providence,) who surveyed developers in her district. A large recycling plant is running in Manassas, Va. EnviroSolutions will also be part of that effort with its plans to open a recycling center on nine acres the company owns across from the soon-to-be-closed landfill. For unrecyclable industrial waste, there are several other construction landfills elsewhere in Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland.

Q: The trucks heading toward the Lorton landfill are a common sight along Washington area highways. Does this mean an end to all that truck traffic?

A: Not likely. There is still a lot of trash to haul, particularly from areas undergoing massive demolition, such as Tysons Corner. EnviroSolutions has warned that its new recycling center would see about as much traffic as its landfill did, though Lorton area community groups argued that that is an exaggeration.

Q: Does the closure of the landfill make it easier for Lorton to attract new retail businesses and other developments?

A: Community leaders are banking on this possibility. Plans are under way for a $188 million development of new homes and retail businesses on the site of the former Lorton jail. Smaller developments in the area are also being planned or under construction, local leaders say.

Q: What about plans to lure green energy technology to Lorton, also known as the “Green Energy Triangle?”

A: Fairfax County leaders are seeking ways to make this happen. A 2013 county study on the Green Energy Triangle concept points out that the county’s I-95 Solid Waste Management Complex hosts a landfill gas-to-energy-project. It also notes that a nearby wastewater treatment plant supplies reused water for the Laurel Hill Golf Course and little league fields close to the plant. The Green Energy Triangle would include those and other county facilities.

Q: Before submitting this last proposal to extend the life of its landfill, EnviroSolutions had signed an agreement to leave behind a park when the site closes at the end of 2018. Will that park still be developed?

A: Fairfax County officials are investigating that question. It’s possible that EnviroSolutions will develop the parkland, but keep it off limits to the public because of concerns over insurance liability that neither EnviroSolutions nor the county want to assume. Lorton community leaders say they don’t want an inaccessible park.

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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