Ernest A. Jones has never been to Philadelphia -- "I went through a corner of Pennsylvania a couple of years ago on my way to Indiana" -- but he can hear the sounds of the city these days and, if the wind is right, smell it.
Jones' farm is just over a rise in the hill from a 120-acre parcel of former timber and farm land that has become the home of thousands of tons of incinerated ash from the City of Brotherly Love.
The first notice that Jones and the other 6,000 residents of this flatland county on Virginia's Middle Peninsula got that their quiet, isolated area had been selected as a landfill for urban trash was the sound of bulldozers digging a pit early this month on what used to be Carroll Lee Walker's farm.
The uproar that followed is typical of the growing dilemma of what to do about the nation's trash. Metropolitan areas have tried energy conversion, ocean dumping and other innovative approaches, but short of shooting it into space, sending it to rural areas -- whether by rail, truck, boat or pipeline -- remains a favorite solution of big-city politicians.
Before it discovered King and Queen County, Philadelphia had handed off its trash to Allentown, Pa., Baltimore County and nearby New Jersey. When New Jersey officials tried to block receipt of Philadelphia's leftovers, the city won a Supreme Court ruling that such actions violate the commerce clause of the Constitution.
Philadelphia thought it had solved its problem when it awarded a contract in November to Joseph Paolino and Sons of Philadelphia, which in turn subcontracted with the King Land Corp. of Tappahannock, Va., to bury a minimum of 15,000 tons a month -- 150,000 tons by June 30 -- of residue from the city's Northwest Incinerator on what had been Walker's farm. The city has an option to extend the contract for a year beyond that.
King Land agreed last month to buy Walker's 120.46 acres for $100,000, and on Christmas Eve -- two weeks before the sale was recorded at the courthouse -- it obtained a permit from the Virginia Department of Health's Bureau of Solid Waste Management to operate an industrial waste landfill, for ash and asbestos wastes, on the site.
On New Year's Eve, Jack Stanley's crew broke ground on a 1,000-by-100-by-12-foot trench in which to bury the first of the trash. And on New Year's Day, a pair of barges pulled up to Dean Greer's pier on the Pamunkey River in West Point carrying 3,000 tons of gritty, black material that had been pushed along a circuitous 350-mile water course down the Delaware River, through the Chesapeake-and-Delaware Canal into the Chesapeake Bay, south to Hampton Roads and up the York River.
As trucks groaned along a 30-mile trip along Rtes. 30, 14 and 260 to the site on the border of Essex and King and Queen counties, occasionally spewing black pebbles onto the roadside, news of the activity spread like the wildfires that occasionally ignite in the pine forests here.
In King and Queen County, where Board of Supervisors meetings typically last 15 minutes, and ne'er a discouraging word is heard, the three supervisors know a public uprising when they hear it. So they acted.
County Administrator Charles W. Smith was dispatched to the landfill, where on Jan. 7 he ordered Bob Brew, manager of King Land's facility, to stop the unloading in the name of the county's erosion and sediment control ordinance.
King Land obeyed, but then it sued the county, arguing that the ordinance, adopted in 1975, had never been enforced and that details necessary for compliance had never been adopted.
"It's a helluva hassle, but we're having fun too," said Louis Carreras, the 75-year-old owner of King Land, who stands to gross more than $2 million by summer under the Dec. 29 agreement with Paolino that pays him $7.75 for every ton of ash buried.
The outcries that filled the air at two public hearings last week indicated that Carreras was the only one having a good time.
At a meeting Thursday night, which was moved to the gymnasium of Central High School after the audience at Monday's session overflowed the courtroom at the courthouse, one man called out: "If you don't understand this, stand up."
Nearly everyone in the crowd of 250 rose.
The supervisors, who had hired Richmond lawyers in three-piece suits to defend them from King Land's lawsuit, to the chagrin of the crowd, refused "on the advice of counsel" to answer any questions. Then they announced they were going into executive session.
As they marched into the principal's office, they were asked the reason for their secret session. After huddling with their lawyers, they returned to the gym, announced that the closed meeting was "to discuss pending litigation," and retreated again.
When the supervisors returned 45 minutes later, they voted without comment to repeal the old ordinance and adopt three emergency measures, including a tougher landfill law.
Chairman Robert A. Kay Jr. attempted to assure the audience that "your interests are being well protected," but he repeated that because of the suit, the supervisors could not answer questions but would listen to comments.
The then-impatient crowd quickly volunteered plenty of them.
The Rev. Keith Parham of the First Baptist Church of Hockley urged the board to "seek every legal act to stop" what he called "a Trojan horse treachery."
Beryl R. Newman, wearing a blazer that identified him as a Congressional Medal of Honor winner, who said his head was bandaged to cover a wound received at Anzio that still makes his ears ring, said the Pennsylvania-New Jersey area is "the height of cancer row."
The 74-year-old Newman, a retired oysterman, asked "why would they ship it 500 miles if it's so harmless. Why not bury their oily, gooey stuff up there? I don't think this is burned garbage," he said, echoing a familiar concern about the original makeup of the material.
"Has any one put a Geiger counter to it?" asked another speaker.
The Rev. John R. Leeper, pastor of the Smyrna Christian Church, declared that his mission is to "proclaim the love of God and fight evil wherever it exists," and that includes the landfill, one mile from his church, which he said has stood at the headwaters of the pristine Dragon Creek for 154 years.
An angry Robert H. Ball, whose lumber business is "near this big hole," shouted, "We don't want it. We implore you to look out for our health and safety. We need some answers from somebody."
"We're doing the best we can," Chairman Kay responded softly at one point.
"Your best is not good enough," shot back one man. "Stop the dumping immediately."
At the first meeting, on Monday, at which more than 300 people attempted to cram into the tiny courtroom, most of the complaints were directed at Robert G. Wickline, director of the state's Bureau of Solid Waste Management.
Many speakers questioned the short time, about two weeks, that it took Carreras to obtain the permit, and wondered how he got it before he owned the land. Wickline, according to reports in the local newspapers, responded that the application arrived in Richmond during a lull in permit requests but was handled routinely, and that permits are issued to landfill operators rather than property owners.
Before the start of a hearing Friday in Yorktown on King Land's attempt to halt the county from enforcing its ordinance, Carreras, who lives about 15 miles north of the landfill, said he is so confident that the ash is safe that "I'd put it on my front yard." He said tests required under the health department permit found "no toxic content" in the first eight barge loads.
Conversely, Carreras said, the county is "dumping raw sewage" in its landfills, "attracting rats and creating methane gas."
Carreras said he got into the landfill business by necessity. He makes brake linings at a shop in the King and Queen County hamlet of Millers Tavern, and a byproduct of his manufacturing process is asbestos dust, which must be buried under strict conditions.
When Friday's hearing began, an attorney for the county told York County Circuit Court Judge G. Duane Holloway that the supervisors' action the previous night in repealing the old ordinance made moot King Land's request for an injunction. He added that "there is no present intention to take any action under the new ordinance." At the urging of King Land's lawyers, he added that if such action is expected, "we will give reasonable notice."
With that, Holloway dismissed the action.
The folks of King and Queen County may have lost the battle -- a gleeful Carreras said after the court ruling that his landfill would be busy "10 days a week" -- but they and residents of other localities that lack strong ordinances may have won the war.
As a result of the uproar, the state is going to change its procedures for granting landfill permits.
William F. Gilley of the Bureau of Solid Waste Management told a legislative committee Thursday that from now on, copies of all applications for permits will be forwarded to local government officials, and if requested, a public hearing will be held, as is now done on hazardous waste permits. Further, Gilley said, regulations being drafted will require a 30-day notice and a public hearing.
King Land said it made no attempt to keep its application a secret, and it pointed out that in an affidavit attached to its suit, Robert H. Davis, the Bureau of Solid Waste Management's regional director, who gave initial approval to the application, said he told county administrator Smith of the proposal on Dec. 16.
But the new rules are too late to help Ernest Jones. Pausing from raking his garden Friday, taking advantage of the unseasonably warm weather, the 73-year-old Jones motioned toward the landfill and recalled that in his lifetime, "I have seen that land tall with trees, then cleared and made tall again, and then planted with corn and beans. I'll never see anything living there again."