While construction in Northern Virginia booms, Jack Crippen counts stumps.
About 300 trucks a day file down Utterback Store Road into Crippen's debris landfill in Great Falls, carrying tons of scrap metal, two-by-fours and other varieties of building leftovers, including tree stumps. Lots of stumps.
"The bankers use interest rates as a barometer to the economy. I use stumps," said Crippen, who turned part of his Fairfax County dairy farm into a 65-acre landfill 15 years ago.
But what is good for Crippen creates problems for local governments. As the construction market soars, officials are increasingly confronted with the politically explosive question of what to do with the mountains of debris left behind.
The issue is pressing hardest in the outer areas of Northern Virginia's development tide. Both Prince William and Loudoun counties are wrestling with landfill proposals that have brought out droves of irate residents in opposition.
Developers contend that a dearth of debris landfills in Loudoun and Prince William forces them to haul debris unacceptably long distances, usually into neighboring localities such as Fairfax and Fauquier counties.
The result, builders said, is an excess of large trucks on local highways and a higher cost for new houses because of disposal expenses. Sanitary landfills do not accept construction trash.
Residents near proposed landfill locations counter that they would harm the environment and ruin the residents' quality of life because of dust, noise and scattered trash from the facilities.
Caught in the middle are Prince William and Loudoun government officials, many of whom acknowledge that they have a responsibility to deal with construction debris created in their localities. But with some debris landfills in Fairfax County rapidly reaching capacity, officials fear the prospect of becoming the dumping ground for refuse from across Northern Virginia. there are five privately owned landfils in Fairfax
"It's a classic example of the principle: 'Not in my back yard,' " said Loudoun County Supervisor Andrew R. Bird III (R-Sterling). Nonetheless, Bird said, "We can't bury our heads on this issue . . . . Loudoun has to deal with the trash Loudoun creates."
Boards of supervisors in both counties are weighing whether to ban private landfills and open publicly owned, government-run debris landfills as a way to monitor safety and prevent trash from crossing their borders.
Loudoun County has no debris landfills, and much of its construction trash travels to Crippen's landfill in Fairfax County, which Crippen said can operate for about two more years.
Two applications to operate private landfills in Loudoun, including one from Crippen, are pending, according to County Administrator Philip A. Bolen, and more are expected.
In Prince William, most construction debris goes to a privately operated landfill in Dumfries at the southern end of the county. The county has received three applications for private landfills.
The proposals, combined with record growth in both counties, have brought the debris issue to the boiling point in recent weeks, with some politicians saying the landfill bids are more unpopular than any issue they've addressed.
"It's almost 100 percent of the people objecting," said Prince William Supervisor G. Anthony Guiffre (R-Gainesville), whose district includes a proposed landfill near Haymarket. "I've literally heard from no one who wants it."
A May meeting over the proposal drew 500 angry residents, with many charging that the wells from which they draw their drinking water would be contaminated by a dump.
The issue is equally volatile in Loudoun. A local citizens group has taken out full-page ads in at least two county newspapers, asking in one ad, "Will Loudoun Become a Trash Dump for the Washington Region?"
Faced with such heated opposition, some officials believe a compromise to the debris crisis would be for local governments to enter the lucrative landfill business themselves.
"Since landfills last forever, they should be owned and operated by government," who can ensure their safety, said Guiffre.
Public debris landfills, said Loudoun Supervisor Ann B. Kavanagh (D-Dulles), "allow the county to control the stream of trash . . . . There is greater control over what goes in -- the people monitoring are county employes."
Others, including Bird, charge that public ownership forfeits the tax revenues a private landfill would reap, and creates unnecessary bureaucracy.
"The bottom-line issue is not who runs a landfill but where it is located," he said. " . . . If they are operated properly they may not be nearly as objectionable as people fear."
Crippen, who said his Great Falls landfill has drawn few complaints from neighbors, agreed. "You mention landfills and everyone shouts 'Oh my God!' . . . . It's really not fair."
Just as controversial as the question of ownership is the issue of whether Loudoun and Prince William should restrict debris from other localities being buried there. Critics said that approach could lead to unneeded tension among Northern Virginia localities.
"We have to live with our neighbors," said Prince William Board of Supervisors Chairman Edwin C. King (D-Dumfries). "I can't look at a stump and tell if it's from Loudoun or Prince William."
Nonetheless, King said, Prince William and other Northern Virginia localities have a duty to keep their construction trash inside their borders. "It's not that much different from what's been going on at Lorton," King said. "No one wants to be the recipient of anyone else's problems, whether it's prisoners or trash."