Residents question Fairfax officials on potential incinerator purchase

Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 5, 2011; 12:12 AM

There's a lot of trash talk going on in Fairfax County - and for good reason.

The county has a chance to exercise an option to buy a waste-to-energy incinerator in Lorton for more than $400 million. Or it could do nothing and let its current agreement with New Jersey-based Covanta Energy expire in five years.

Residents who attended several information sessions on the issue this week raised some key questions - one of which was simply, "What's in it for us?"

According to county officials' estimates, owning the incinerator could reduce costs by between $130 million and $660 million over the next 30 years.

Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) said the potential savings should be considered when making long-range plans for handling the county's waste.

"We're talking about hundreds of millions of dollars at stake," said Hyland, whose district is home to the facility.

More than two dozen of Hyland's constituents who attended an information session Thursday at South County Secondary School seemed to be skeptical about buying the incinerator.

Some remembered how the county's Board of Supervisors approved the incinerator's construction over their objections in 1986.

In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by the Federation of Lorton Communities to overturn a decision that said the District of Columbia, which owned the site at the time, had the right to use the property as it pleased.

The I-95 Energy/Resource Recovery Center, which opened in 1990 and sits on 23 acres in the southeastern part of the county, has four furnaces that process about 3,000 tons of garbage a day and typically produce about 80 megawatts, enough electricity to power 72,000 homes.

The electricity is sold to Virginia Dominion Power, with the county receiving 90 percent of the proceeds. Covanta receives the remaining share, and it could negotiate an increase if the county does not buy the facility.

Hyland, who initially opposed the construction, said many of the environmental concerns residents brought up years ago have not been realized.

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