The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will consider a controversial proposal to extend the life of a landfill in Lorton, weighing the interests of a growing bedroom community against the region’s waste disposal needs and an opportunity to create a hub for green energy.
The months-long battle over whether to keep the landfill open far beyond 2018 has ignited passion on both sides and created an unusual rift among county supervisors.
A county-appointed mediation group could negotiate only small compromises between the landfill owner, EnviroSolutions, and residents. EnviroSolutions, which asked last year to keep the landfill open until 2040, has shortened its time frame to 2034, for example. The company also agreed to slightly lower the maximum allowable height of the trash heap to a 395-foot peak. Residents agreed to that height but said they were not willing to have the landfill open past 2022.
Both sides are anxious about the possibility of a vote Tuesday. About 80 people are scheduled to testify against the EnviroSolutions plan during a public hearing that begins at 4:30 p.m. and will be carried live on the county’s Web site.
“This is the biggest issue that is facing us today,” said Nick Firth, president of the South County Federation, a group of homeowners associations that has led the fight against the landfill extension.
EnviroSolutions, which handles more than 650,000 tons per year of industrial waste from as far away as Baltimore, says it needs to keep the landfill open beyond 2018 because the 250-acre site will not be filled by then.
After agreeing in 2005 to leave behind a rural park at the site, the company last year sought to keep the landfill open until 2040, offering in return $18.2 million for recreational facilities in the area and some green technology improvements: wind turbines, solar panels and geothermal piping.
The offer was initially embraced by county officials and even the local Sierra Club, as a way to build a “Green Energy Triangle” in Lorton that would reflect the county’s commitment to environmentally friendly technology. The Sierra Club has since reversed its position, however, saying the plan now seems unrealistic.
Among other potential problems is the fact that the wind turbines would be near the Mason Neck nature preserve, where bald eagles and other birds nest, making approval unlikely by state agencies, opponents said.
Conrad Mehan, a lobbyist for EnviroSolutions, said the company is committed to carrying out its plan, although it’s possible some components would be altered to accommodate those kinds of concerns. “We will not eliminate any of the green energy features,” Mehan said. “We consider that component critical to the project.”
Residents say extending the life of the landfill would slow Lorton’s evolution away from decades of heavy industrial use.
Besides the nearly 40-year-old landfill, Lorton is home to a rock quarry, a county-owned ash landfill and a Covanta Energy waste-to-energy treatment plant. The shuttering of the Lorton Correctional Complex in 2001 helped trigger a flurry of new development, including shopping centers and homes.
Some supervisors are wary of extending the life of the landfill in exchange for the promise of another big project in Lorton.
“The reality of what’s being proposed is that there are no guarantees,” said Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland (Mount Vernon), who represents the Lorton area and is against the proposal.
“This project is wrapped in a mantle of green energy that obviously has made it appealing for some,” Hyland said. “It’s also wrapped in the green color of money.”