The land use case for the proposed expansion of a construction debris landfill in Lorton dragged on for months as county leaders continued to try and find a compromise that would satisfy both the business community and Lorton residents.
However, the Board of Supervisors ultimately rejected the proposal, voting 6-4 Tuesday to deny the application.
“We’re disappointed that the board decided not to approve the project,” said Conrad Mehan, a spokesman for landfill owner EnviroSolutions Inc. He expressed his thanks to the supervisors, chambers of commerce and thousands of county residents who supported the project.
ESI had secured approval in 2007 to increase the height of the landfill, with the promise that it would close in 2018 and be turned into a public park. ESI would maintain a recycling facility on land it owns across from the landfill.
However, the recession and slow economic recovery meant there was less construction debris headed to the landfill, and the park plan fell through when ESI could not reach agreement with the Fairfax County Park Authority about legal liability issues.
The waste company came back to the county and asked to extend landfill operations to 2040, also proposing to develop a green energy park on the landfill over time with energy generation through solar, wind, geothermal and landfill gas systems.
The proposal divided the community, with business groups supporting the extension to keep redevelopment costs low, some environmental groups backing the plan because of the green energy component, and many neighbors to the property opposing the proposal, saying that they expected ESI to live up to the promises it made in 2007.
Supervisor Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) fought the landfill expansion in his district all along, saying the county needs to keep moving forward on its plans for improving the Lorton community, which was once home to a prison, multiple landfills and a sewage treatment plant. The prison property has been closed and redeveloped, the former county landfill is now a waste-to-energy plant and Lorton’s population has doubled since the 1990s.
“Public trust in our land use process is at stake,” Hyland said. “Tell me the landfill will close in 2018 and I should be able to believe it.”
By the time the Board of Supervisors voted on the plan Tuesday, it had been significantly stripped down, only proposing a seven-year extension of landfill operations. ESI was also offering much less in terms of the green energy projects and cash contributions to the county.
Hyland said the plan that had once been “cloaked in a mantle of green” now had essentially no community benefits.
“From the community’s perspective, the capacity increase is still there. What is continually diminished is any amenities or any benefits for the community,” said Supervisor Michael Frey (R-Sully).
The plan still had many moving parts through this week, with supervisors receiving updated materials just minutes before they were to vote on the proposal Tuesday evening.
It was unclear to board members whether the revised application complied with one of the elements that the board had requested in June, a significant reduction in the height of a berm that would allow additional capacity at the landfill.
The berm issue was “emblematic” of the problems with the proposal, said Supervisor John Foust (D-Dranesville).
“We sit here and get eye-popping news on this case all the time,” he said.
As of now, ESI is planning to move forward under the terms of its current permit and wind down landfill operations by 2018 and open the recycling facility, Mehan said.
“We have no plans to come back and make another application,” he said.
While the board members who opposed the expansion largely dismissed this argument, the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce maintains that closing the landfill will lead to increased development costs for county businesses.
“By striking down this proposal, we fear that developers will see rising construction costs, which could eventually be passed on to real estate owners and tenants—and ultimately customers and clients,” said chamber President and CEO Jim Corcoran in a released statement.
This, along with the green energy components, were the chief reasons that other board members backed the scaled-down expansion plan. Board Chairwoman Sharon Bulova (D-At large), who had worked to broker the compromise, supported the plan along with Supervisors Penny Gross (D-Mason), John Cook (R-Braddock) and Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill).
“While developers are recycling more and more, we are not yet able to recycle everything,” Bulova said.
She and Cook argued that the seven-year extension would have allowed the county and businesses more time to review the waste stream issue and ensure businesses would have somewhere to dispose of construction debris.
“Debris will be shipped out of the county when this landfill closes, because we don’t have the capacity,” Cook said. “There will be increased cost to every shopping center in this county that wants to improve itself … and those costs will be passed on to the tenants of those shopping centers, and then on to the customers.”