Careful with that support

Published 10:08 pm Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Nearly everything about solid waste disposal in Hampton Roads changed last April, when the Southeastern Public Service Authority signed a contract with Wheelabrator Technologies Inc. to transfer ownership of the Portsmouth waste-to-energy plant from the authority to the New Hampshire-based company.

The debt-laden regional public waste disposal agency suddenly had a cash infusion to help pay down the financial obligations it had built up over decades of mismanagement. Underperforming assets suddenly had a new purpose. And a regional landfill that was rapidly nearing capacity suddenly found itself with a new lease on life, as a huge majority of the garbage collected around the region got trucked to Portsmouth to be burned instead of being buried in Suffolk.

Today, the landfill is used almost exclusively for construction and demolition debris, and the last cell, or area, that had been approved by environmental regulators for dumping is now projected to last well beyond the 2018 date of the end of the contract that binds the SPSA communities together. So it’s somewhat hard to understand why the Authority has continued with a pre-Wheelabrator plan to gain approval for opening a new cell at the landfill site for dumping garbage.

Email newsletter signup

Suffolk residents will have a chance to share their opinions on the plan during a public hearing tonight at 7 p.m. at Nansemond River High School. Considering that they are the ones who will be affected most directly by any expansion of the facility, it is important that they show up and make their voices heard.

Especially during the past couple of years, when a new odor began emanating from the landfill — resulting, area residents said, in a variety of health conditions for those who lived nearby — the danger of hosting a regional landfill has become clearer than ever to Suffolk residents.

Suffolk residents should demand that SPSA make a strong and convincing case for why the new cell is needed, and they need to be sure that the Authority has a better plan to protect the neighborhoods around the landfill than was demonstrated in response to their complaints about the unnatural landfill odors two winters ago. Only then should they consider supporting the plan.