Landfill liquid decreasing

Published 9:59 pm Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Efforts by the local trash authority to mitigate the excess of liquid in its Suffolk landfill have been helping, but the solution still is expected to cost millions.

The board of the Southeastern Public Service Authority heard an update on the problem of the liquid, known as leachate, during its regular meeting Wednesday.

“We’ve put a pretty good dent in the leachate that’s accumulating in Cell V,” said Jeffrey Murray with consulting firm HDR. “We’re trending quickly down.”

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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 had about 30 feet of it in two different cells when the problem was first discovered earlier this year. The DEQ in March issued a notice of violation to the authority.

The landfill is permitted to discharge only 50,000 gallons per day to the Nansemond Treatment Plant. But that would not have solved the problem quickly enough, if at all, so the authority had to explore other options.

The authority hired a local company to pump more and haul the liquid to other treatment plants. Murray said Wednesday that it appears the concept is working.

In Cell V, the level has been reduced 15 to 20 feet as of May 17, Murray said. The elevation of liquid is now about 13 feet on one side and about 6 feet on the other.

Pumping began in Cell VI on May 15, and the level went down more than two feet in the first 48 hours. The elevation in Cell VI is 20 feet.

“We still don’t know how the landfill is going to react next week or the week after,” Murray said. He estimated it will take about 163 days for the landfill to be back in compliance with the DEQ regulations.

“This is still continuing to trend downward,” he said. “We know it’s going to take some time.”

However, officials were encouraged by the drop.

“I feel better about the potential costs with the drop in volume and knowing we have less to remediate,” SPSA finance director Liesl DeVary said.

The costs could rise to $11.3 million, she estimated, not including any civil penalty assessed by DEQ.

John Keifer, who represents Norfolk on the board, asked if there was a movement to press DEQ on why they had not kept a closer watch on the situation.

“All I would say is we’re not in a position to press DEQ on anything,” SPSA attorney Trey Huelsberg said. “We need to resolve this issue in a non-adversarial way.”

The board also approved the budget for the upcoming fiscal year on Wednesday, although it’s likely the budget will need to be modified at some point. DeVary said the uncertainty about costs related to the leachate, among other issues, make it hard to predict the ultimate tipping fee, which is the fee per ton localities pay SPSA to dispose of their trash.

Also at the meeting, the board voted to select The Mercer Group, which is based in Chesapeake, to help with the search for a new executive director following the retirement announcement of Rowland Taylor. The estimated cost is $25,000, including a professional fee of $18,000 and project related expenses not to exceed $7,000.