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Community divided over landfill, green energy plan

County officials are evaluating a controversial proposal to convert a construction debris landfill to a demonstration site for several different types of alternative energy generation.

Some Lorton-area residents are opposed to the proposal because it overturns a prior agreement negotiated between landfill owner EnviroSolutions Inc. and the community that would cease landfill operations at the end of 2018 and turn the land into a public park.

The new plan would keep the landfill at least partially open until 2040.

“It was a perfect end to the landfill, but then ESI reneged on that agreement,” said Nick Firth, president of the South County Federation. The federation, which represents homeowners and civic associations throughout the Lorton area, is leading the charge against the landfill expansion.

Firth described the landfill as “a badge of shame for everyone to see” as people enter Lorton from I-95.

Other area residents and environmentalists expressed support for the project because they believe it will result in less truck traffic than the current approved plan, and because of the opportunity to add solar and wind energy generation in the county.

“I think this application is a rare opportunity for the county to establish a renewable footprint,” said Amy Gould, a realtor who has worked on other environmental issues in the county. “I believe it is in the county’s best interest both environmentally and economically.”

The current plan governing the landfill was approved in 2007. At that time, ESI planned to close and cap the landfill in 2018, when it was expected to be full, according to the company’s representative, Frank McDermott.

Following a state-mandated monitoring period of 10 years, ESI was to turn the landfill into a public park and turn it over to the Fairfax County Park Authority.

It would also maintain a recycling operation across the street from the landfill. Neighbors concerned about truck traffic said they believe moving ahead with the recycling operation would lead to more truck traffic issues than the new proposal.

Since the 2007 agreement, the downturn in the construction industry during the recession led to less construction debris and the landfill will not reach its capacity by 2018, McDermott said.

ESI and the Park Authority also could not reach an agreement on the terms of the park transfer to the Park Authority due to the issue of which party would hold the liability for the landfill, according to McDermott.

In addition to extending the lifespan of the landfill, ESI is also proposing to expand the capacity of the landfill by building a 70-foot berm on one side.

Jim Corcoran, president of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce, said closing the landfill prematurely could have a negative impact on redevelopment in the county because having to transport debris farther will increase costs.

It also would make it harder to achieve LEED “green building” certification, a requirement for building in Tysons Corner, because that certification caps the number of miles the debris travels, Corcoran said. The landfill has a special area set aside for LEED-certified projects.

Some speakers at a Planning Commission public hearing on the landfill last week, as well as Commissioner Earl Flanagan (Mount Vernon) expressed concerns about the stability of the berm and the possibility that it could fail and dump landfill debris into a nearby stream.

The berm would undergo multiple reviews and testing by multiple agencies, McDermott said.

The energy generation would be phased in as operations at the landfill slowly wind down. In the first phase, there would be a three-acre area for solar power generation, three wind turbines, a collection system to use the methane gas generated by the landfill and the infrastructure needed for geothermal energy production.

There would also be an observation area for individuals or groups to see the windmills and learn more about the energy production taking place on the site.

Some have expressed concern that the windmills could be dangerous for birds and bats, particularly the bald eagles that reside at nearby Mason Neck. ESI would be required to conduct a bald eagle study before installing the windmills.

After the landfill is capped and closed, some additional public amenities, such as batting cages and a baseball driving range, could be added to the site. The solar and wind generation also could be expanded over time, as more areas of the landfill are closed.

The Planning Commission is slated to make its recommendation on the landfill application at its March 13 meeting.