Leachate complicates SPSA budget

Published 9:24 pm Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The uncertain costs of addressing an overabundance of liquid in the regional landfill in Suffolk is causing problems for the regional trash authority’s budget process.

“There are still many unknowns in our budget,” said Liesl DeVary, the authority’s chief financial officer. “I wanted to give the board the worst case from the expenditure side.”

DeVary presented a $42.3 million budget to the board of the Southeastern Public Service Authority during its regular meeting on Wednesday. That’s a decrease of 6.6 percent from last year but still includes a lot of variables to deal with the issue of leachate.

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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.

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 at the Nansemond Treatment Plant. But the landfill is likely producing 60,000 to 70,000 gallons per day, so the problem is getting worse.

Jeffrey Murray of consultant firm HDR reported Wednesday that pumping from Cell V at the landfill has resulted in a decrease of a few feet of leachate. But they haven’t started pumping from Cell VI at all, and another feet of leachate accumulates there every two to three days.

Solutions include pumping more leachate and hauling it to other Hampton Roads Sanitation District facilities that can handle the load. A pilot study that would treat the leachate to a higher standard and allow more of it to be discharged is also recommended.

But all of that costs money, and DeVary estimated at least $10.5 million in costs.

Virginia Beach board representative John Barnes said he wants to see a budget that doesn’t push costs for the leachate issue onto member communities.

DeVary’s proposed budget includes a tipping fee — the amount member localities except Suffolk pay to dump their trash — of $125 per ton. That would likely be reduced in January to about $85 per ton, at which point Suffolk would start having to pay the tip fee but also would receive some kind of host fee. It has for many years maintained a deal in which it did not pay for disposal in exchange for hosting the regional landfill.

“I want to provide you a balanced budget,” DeVary said. “The hope and intent is to go lower than that.”

Besides the leachate, other unknowns are related to new contracts going into effect in January. The authority does not yet know how it will dispose of municipal waste beginning Jan. 25, because RePower South has not yet completed construction of a Chesapeake facility that would convert trash into energy pellets.

It also hasn’t finalized contracts for the hauling and disposal of commercial waste after January.

“Until these three items are solved, it’s really difficult for me to give you a tipping fee,” DeVary said.

Also in the budget is a 3-percent cost-of-living raise for employees.

Those employees will no longer include executive director Rowland “Bucky” Taylor, who recently announced his retirement effective July 31.

He said Wednesday the retirement had nothing to do with the leachate issue, which some board members have said indicated someone was asleep at the switch.

Taylor, 67, said his wife retired recently and has been pressuring him to do the same.