SPSA and its neighbors

Published 9:42 pm Thursday, August 3, 2017

Folks who live near the Southeastern Public Service Authority’s regional landfill off Route 58 have learned to be somewhat skeptical when it comes to what they believe about the authority’s commitment to being a good neighbor.

Many can — at least figuratively — still smell the stench the landfill was producing seven years ago, when the fumes coming from the facility were so noxious that some residents said they were suffering health problems because of it. Whether the health issues were related or not, there was no denying the rank odor — it could be noticed all around the city, depending on atmospheric conditions.

The problem was finally alleviated when SPSA installed a gas collection system that draws fumes created by the decaying garbage to the bottom of the landfill, where it is then collected for sale as an alternative power source or burned off with flares at the landfill site.

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But the problem wasn’t corrected until residents put up a fuss, until area media got involved and until long after it should have been addressed by SPSA officials.

So when Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett, who represents residents in the area around the landfill, asked for a meeting between SPSA officials and citizens of that community in advance of a bid to expand the landfill and, potentially, begin accepting more trash from cities around Hampton Roads, citizens were eager to show up and make their concerns known.

On Wednesday, a couple dozen of them did just that, convening at Mack Benn Jr. Elementary School to hear about plans for the landfill.

SPSA interim executive director Liesl DeVary tried to assure them that the authority would be more responsive to their concerns this time around. She said, for instance, that there would be no budget constraints in the case of odor-control problems.

“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.”

Perhaps that’s so. But we can certainly understand why folks around the landfill remain skeptical. Only time will tell how responsive SPSA’s new leadership will be in such a crisis.

In the meantime, Bennett and the rest of City Council should be diligent about keeping in touch with these constituents and making sure their concerns — if things should begin to go wrong at the landfill again — are not ignored or allowed to fester.

This meeting, at least, was a good start toward a better relationship between SPSA and its neighbors.