Landfill meeting draws dozens

Published 10:05 pm Wednesday, August 2, 2017

More than two dozen citizens attended a meeting Wednesday evening to hear about the plans for an expansion to the Southeastern Public Service Authority landfill near Nansemond Parkway.

The authority has submitted rezoning and conditional use permit requests. City Council will hold public hearings on them on Aug. 16.

A host agreement worked out between the city of Suffolk and SPSA requires that the requests be approved.

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Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett requested Wednesday’s community meeting, held at Mack Benn Jr. Elementary School, for citizens to hear about the plans ahead of time.

“I want to give the citizens of the city of Suffolk the opportunity to speak and hear what the plans are for the future,” Bennett said.

Many of the citizens at the meeting remembered the odor problem of seven years ago, when the landfill was giving off such noxious fumes that many residents developed medical issues they believe resulted from the odor.

“Whatever they do, I hope they’ll be able to control and manage the stench,” said Lattice Askew, who attended the meeting.

SPSA interim executive director Liesl DeVary said Wednesday that the odor problem was solved, at least in part, by installing a gas collection system that draws the fumes created by decomposing trash to the bottom of the landfill. Such a system would normally not be installed until later in the process, she added.

Once gas is collected at the bottom of the landfill, SPSA pipes some to BASF on Wilroy Road as an alternative power source, sells some to the grid and flares the rest.

Several citizens remained unconvinced that SPSA was committed to preventing odor problems in the future.

“SPSA was very unresponsive to our needs,” Jerry Butler said of the previous issue. “SPSA has a very bad relationship with the local community and how it treats it. The whole time, SPSA was in total denial they were the problem. You have a lot to overcome in my eyes. You have stacked all these cards against yourselves.”

Butler asked the authority to commit to spending a minimum amount on odor control.

“To remedy any odor complaints, there would not be budget constraints,” DeVary said, adding the authority would do anything deemed necessary.

“We have a lot of new staff and different expectations,” she added. “I would certainly hope we learned from the past. Operating procedures are much better and different.”

“I can assure you, we will not treat anything as a joke,” said Henry Strickland, landfill and environmental superintendent.

The host agreement between Suffolk and SPSA provides for the city to receive $4 a ton for every ton of trash that is dumped at the landfill. But in order for the agreement to take effect, the expansion has to be approved by City Council.

“There’s an incentive for the city of Suffolk to approve this,” said Jeff Murray, an engineer with the consulting firm HDR.

Since 2010, most of the region’s household trash has been incinerated at a waste-to-energy plant in Portsmouth. However, come January, the authority plans to move to a new disposal method. RePower has proposed to convert the trash into energy pellets at a plant in Chesapeake.

However, if RePower does not come through by January, the Suffolk landfill could once again be accepting household waste, which is more likely to generate odor than what’s currently dumped there. The landfill currently accepts only construction and demolition debris and ash from the waste-to-energy plant.

If RePower fails, the expansion will be needed by 2024. If it is successful, the current landfill footprint could last another 20 years.

The hotline to call for odor complaints at the landfill is 417-5251.