In the tiny town of Occoquan, where the streets are lined with boutiques, galleries and cafes, the air this summer is filled with more than charm.
Take a deep breath, and when the wind is right you will get a heavy dose of what some town residents say has come to symbolize relations with its neighbor to the north: foul odors from the Lorton landfill operated by Fairfax County.
"There's times of day when you can't even go outside, it's so damn putrid," said Willis C. Schoommaker, a 16-year resident of the Prince William County town, standing at his snack bar on Mill Street yesterday.
For town residents, the fumes, said to be worst at dawn and dusk, are a daily reminder of the latest episode in a long history of tension between Occoquan, population 260, and Fairfax County, population 687,800.
Fairfax has proposed extending the life of its Lorton landfill by building a giant incinerator that would reduce trash to ashes and generate large quantities of electricity.
Town merchants and residents say the incinerator would spew dangerous chemicals into the environment, endangering their health and damaging tourism, the lifeblood of the old settlement along the Prince William County side of the Occoquan River.
"We've got the prison the District of Columbia's huge Lorton prison complex , we've got the dump, and now they're trying to give us the incinerator," said Occoquan Mayor Chuck Pugh, a leading foe of the proposed burner. "We feel like Lorton has become the dumping ground for any undesirable whatever."
The incinerator, called a resource recovery center, would emit colorless, odorless fumes that would present an insignificant health threat to area residents, according to Andrew H. Quigley, a Fairfax County engineer.
The facility, which would stretch the life of the Lorton landfill by at least 10 years, would not be visible from Occoquan and would likely diminish the odors that the landfill now emits, Quigley said. He added that the county had kept Occoquan and Prince William County officials well informed about the facility.
Many in Occoquan counter that Fairfax and the District of Columbia have always allowed unpleasant facilities -- including a sewage treatment plant and a rock quarry in addition to the prison and landfill -- to be placed in the relatively unpopulated Lorton area without concern for the impact on their river town.
"Lorton is the back door to Fairfax, but it's the front door to Occoquan," Pugh said. "Fairfax is totally insensitive to anything outside their borders."
"They wouldn't think of putting something like this in McLean or Reston," agreed LaVerne Carson, a member of the Occoquan Town Council.
The charge is repeated by some Prince William County officials.
"The landfill right now just stinks to high heaven," said Prince William Supervisor Kathleen K. Seefeldt (D-Occoquan). "That makes it difficult to have confidence in their ability to manage."
"Fairfax seems to have no regard to its impact on other jurisdictions," Seefeldt added. "Their attitude generally is 'Everything's fine, don't worry about it.' "
"I think that charge is unfounded," Fairfax County Executive J. Hamilton Lambert countered. "We've talked with the Prince William County Board, we've talked with their county executive . . . . They have been fully informed."
Lambert said Prince William is considering building a similar incinerator near Manassas.
Fairfax Supervisor T. Farrell Egge (R-Mount Vernon) added that residents of Occoquan and other parts of Prince William are as welcome at public hearings on the facility as are Fairfax residents. He acknowledged that many of his constituents in the Lorton area also feel they have been treated poorly by the county.
"They feel like they've been left out," said Egge, an opponent of the proposed incinerator. "Lorton residents have a voting strength now, and they're not laying down and taking it anymore."
In Occoquan, some residents said they were resigned to the unpleasantness that comes when you are a neighbor of Lorton.
"There's nothing like coming into this beautiful town and smelling someone else's trash," said Mike Valois, an Occoquan lawyer. He added that it is like the weather: "Everybody talks about it, but nobody does anything."