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A proposal to extend the life of a Lorton construction debris landfill and use it as an alternative energy generation site earned a tepid endorsement from the Fairfax County Planning Commission Thursday.

The application earned a recommendation for approval on a 6-4 vote, but commissioners also tacked on a list of issues they believe need to be addressed before the proposal should be approved. There were legal reasons that the measure needed to be moved forward at that meeting, rather than further delaying a vote at the Planning Commission level.

In 2007, landfill owner EnviroSolutions Inc. secured approval to increase the height of the landfill by agreeing to close the operation and cap the landfill by 2018, when it was anticipated that the landfill would be full.

The property, on Furnace Road in Lorton, was to be turned over to the Fairfax County Park Authority for use as a park. However, the Park Authority Board subsequently decided that it did not want to accept the park.

In addition, the slowdown in the construction industry as a result of the recession meant that the landfill will not reach capacity by 2018 as expected.

ESI returned with a new proposal to extend the life of the landfill to 2040 and, as operations wind down, use the landfill as a renewable energy demonstration site, with systems to collect wind, solar, geothermal and landfill gas.

While the concept won the hearts of some environmental groups in the county, many Lorton residents were strongly opposed to the idea of extending landfill operations.

Just before the Planning Commission decision, ESI modified its proposal to reduce the already-approved height of the landfill and close operations six years earlier, in 2034, as an attempt to appease community concerns.

However, Mount Vernon District Planning Commissioner Earl Flanagan said the area should be developed as a southern gateway to the county and that, therefore, extending the landfill use is inconsistent with the county’s comprehensive land use plan.

“An even larger landfill does nothing to announce south county as a place even worth visiting,” Flanagan said. “It is difficult to conceive of any land use that is more inconsistent with a gateway than a mountainous debris landfill.”

Further, he argued that extending landfill operations would have more negative environmental implications than the benefits provided by the renewable energy facilities. For example, he said the proposed windmills are a threat to the bald eagle population at nearby Mason Neck.

Flanagan wanted to deny the application, but his motion failed on a 4-6 vote.

The majority of commissioners ended up backing a proposal by Commissioner Jim Hart (At large) who said the construction debris landfill is a necessary facility to serve the whole county and that the Board of Supervisors needs to find a way to make it more palatable to neighbors.

“If we don’t have it here, and the debris has to be shipped out of the county … it frustrates our efforts to get developers to comply with, for example, LEED certification,” Hart said.

LEED certification is a type of sustainable building certification county leaders are trying to encourage everywhere, but particularly in redeveloping areas like Tysons Corner. One component of LEED certification is how far building waste has to be transported.

Hart’s motion also said that the Board of Supervisors should remove the windmills in favor of another energy source, further reduce the height of the landfill, add restrictions on removing existing vegetation and buffering, and require ESI to designate a community liaison.

Planning Commission Chairman Peter Murphy (Springfield) urged ESI and the community to continue working together to come up with a compromise plan.

“It is your time, both of you, to stop spinning your tires and come up with a meaningful compromise,” Murphy said.

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com