Holland plans ‘donation’ to city

Published 10:21 pm Tuesday, June 28, 2011

John Holland stands atop his landfill off Nansemond Parkway on Tuesday. The business owner hopes to donate part of a fine imposed by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to the city of Suffolk for environmental programs.

The city of Suffolk is investigating possible uses for a $35,000 check from John C. Holland Enterprises as part of a fine instituted by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

The fine, which totals $50,000, is the result of a collapsed dirt slope at Holland’s landfill during a weeklong rainstorm a couple years ago. Though the waste stayed in place and the dirt remained entirely on his property, Holland says he’d rather pay the fine than fight it in court.

“It’s pure economics,” Holland said. “Bite the bullet and pay them.”

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The dirt slope that collapsed is on the east side of the landfill, where workers at the top of the pile of trash can see the buildings of downtown Norfolk and the cranes in Portsmouth’s ports on a clear day. Holland says it was a fluke that the slope collapsed, even in the face of so much rain.

“The likelihood of that happening again is once in 147 years,” he said.

Though he initially tried to fight the fine, he realized it would be cheaper to pay it than to take it to court.

But Holland, by his own description, is “a little bit bullheaded,” and doesn’t want to give all of the money to the DEQ. There’s a clause in state law that allows him to use part of the fine for an environmental project within a 50-mile radius.

He originally compiled a list of seven projects he wanted to use the money for, including cleaning up an illegal dumpsite near his property.

“They just flatly turned down everything I turned in on the seven items,” Holland said. “They chose not to choose any of them.”

So Holland turned to municipal governments. The approved project must be within a 50-mile radius of his site, so most area localities would qualify.

“But I do business in Suffolk,” he said. “My family’s roots are way deep in the city.”

Holland plans to pay $15,000 to the DEQ and give $35,000 to the city. As long as it’s approved by the DEQ and by Holland, the city can use the money for any environmental project.

“At the current time, the DEQ is in the process of providing staff with a listing of suggested projects or equipment that qualify under the consent order with Mr. Holland,” City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn wrote to City Council members on June 13. She said the process should be complete by July or August.

Holland appeared at a City Council meeting in May to present his plans to City Council and to put his side of the story out there.

“I wanted my neighbors to hear it from me,” he said. “I haven’t polluted a thing.”

But as long as he must pay the fine, he said, “I’d just as soon give Suffolk the $35,000.”