Millions to fix landfill issue

Published 10:06 pm Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The first inkling of the potential cost of an excess of liquid in the regional landfill in Suffolk was presented to the regional trash authority’s board during a special meeting Wednesday at the Regional Building in Chesapeake.

The board also bandied about different theories on how long the problem has existed, whose fault it is and what the best next steps would be.

Leachate, as it’s called, is a natural occurrence in landfills, but it is supposed to be pumped out regularly and kept under a certain amount. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality regulates leachate and says landfills can have no more than 12 inches of it.

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But the Southeastern Public Service Authority landfill in Suffolk has about 30 feet of it in two different cells, the authority’s board first heard earlier this year.

The DEQ last month issued a notice of violation to the authority.

Currently, the landfill is only permitted to discharge up to 50,000 gallons per day. But the landfill is likely producing 60,000 to 70,000 gallons per day, so the problem is getting worse.

The first five months of the solution is expected to cost $2.5 million. The costs include $1.8 million as the cost to pump and haul the leachate to other Hampton Roads Sanitation District facilities, as well as HRSD fees, engineering services, haul road improvements, legal services, staff overtime and more.

However, the problem won’t be solved in five months. The cost for the future is unknown.

“It’s going to be a long process,” said Jeffrey Murray of consultant firm HDR. “We’re looking at a year.”

Atlantic Heating and Cooling was the low bidder to pump and haul the leachate for 150 days, at a cost of $1.8 million — or 6 cents per gallon.

Conley Environmental will also be paid $138,000 to improve the haul road at the landfill to handle the bigger trucks.

The authority will pay for the initial expenses with a projected budget surplus in the current fiscal year of $3.17 million. That includes about $2 million in savings in expenses and more than $1.1 million in excess revenue.

Board member William Sorrentino Jr. of Virginia Beach blasted landfill management.

“I think the management of the landfill was asleep at the switch,” he said. “Because they were asleep at the switch, we didn’t know we had a problem. If we had known we had a problem, we could have fixed the problem.”

Board chairman Marley Woodall Jr. sought to cast a positive light on the situation. Assuming the problem has been in place since HRSD reduced the amount of leachate the landfill was allowed to discharge, he said the authority wouldn’t have had the money to pay for it then.

“That was a bad thing, not catching it,” he said, noting SPSA was more than a quarter of a billion dollars in debt then. But, he added, “It seems to me, in a warped way, it actually gave us the opportunity to bankroll the money.”

John Keifer of Norfolk posited the theory that the problem has existed only for the last couple of years, as a partial result of heavy rains.

“There is an alternate scenario here,” he said. “An alternate scenario is it just got away from us in the last couple years.”

Suffolk City Manager Patrick Roberts, who sits on the board, noted the authority has in past years discharged less than 28,000 gallons per day on average — about half what it was permitted to discharge.

Board members also discussed having a staff study to see whether an additional manager is needed between Executive Director Rowland Taylor and the landfill manager.

Roberts suggested instead having an in-house report as part of the budget, which will be presented at the regular meeting later this month.