Landfill expansion approved

Published 10:03 pm Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Suffolk City Council on Wednesday gave its approval to a future expansion of the Southeastern Public Service Authority’s regional landfill in Suffolk.

Three people spoke against the proposals. Some members of council also expressed reservations about the plan, but they noted that the landfill is an unfortunate necessity.

“This city has 90,000-plus people that expect their trash to be picked up, and they expect it to be reasonably priced,” Mayor Linda T. Johnson said.

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SPSA is counting on the landfill as a backup plan to dispose of trash starting in January if an outside company doesn’t come through with its promises. SPSA is expected to switch its method of disposing of municipal waste from a Wheelabrator waste-to-energy facility located in Portsmouth to RePower South, a company that has proposed to build a Chesapeake facility to convert trash into energy pellets that would then be sold as an alternative energy source.

But, as Councilman Roger Fawcett noted Wednesday, RePower may not come through, which would leave SPSA disposing of household trash from eight localities in the region at the landfill once again.

“I think it’s a pie in the sky and a dream,” Fawcett said. “I think we have limited choices at this point.”

The expansion would not be needed until at least 2024, perhaps as late as 2040, according to Jeff Murray of HDR Engineers, an engineer on the project.

Three people spoke in opposition to the proposals. Jerry Butler, who lives nearby, reminded the council of odor problems experienced by the community in the past, which were determined to be caused by the landfill. He asked what SPSA plans to do to avoid a repeat in the future.

“Why are we letting them get away with just good intentions?” Butler said. “Breathing is really fundamental to living.”

Ralph Nahra, who owns 212 acres bordering the landfill, asked for additional conditions on the proposals, including that SPSA be required to purchase the land he owns as well as turn the already-closed cells into some kind of entertainment center.

SPSA Interim Executive Director Liesl DeVary said there have been no odor complaints in several years. She added that much has changed in recent years — including leadership and the authority’s much-improved financial condition — and promised better communication.

“We want to be accountable,” she said. “We want to fulfill our obligations to you and the member communities.”

City Manager Patrick Roberts noted that the host community agreement, which did not exist in the past, gives the city recourse if its citizens are harmed.

Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett, who lives near the landfill, was the only vote against both permit requests, citing concerns about odor and traffic.

Mayor Johnson said she thinks SPSA will do better in the future.

“I do believe in my heart the change in SPSA is real,” she said.

Actually dumping trash in the additional cell is a long way away, as a large transportation project has to take place prior to doing so.

In order to accommodate the large, slow trucks that constantly turn into and out of the landfill directly from a dangerous portion of Route 58 near the downtown exit, a flyover has been proposed that would allow eastbound traffic to cross the westbound lanes and enter the landfill without having to encounter the westbound traffic.

State transportation agencies have planned $5 million for preliminary engineering for the project in the VDOT Six-Year Improvement Program. As a result, construction funding is at least seven years out.

If the flyover is not constructed by the time Cell VII is ready for operations, an alternative plan could include a second entrance to the landfill from Nansemond Parkway.