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King George Landfill’s future is looking … up

By CATHY DYSON, The Free Lance-Star

The King George Landfill doesn’t want its operations to get any closer to neighbors, so there’s only one way it can expand when it reaches capacity.

It will have to go up instead of out, said District Manager Thomas Cue.

Recently, he got permission from the Board of Supervisors to look into the possibility of a vertical expansion at the facility, the largest landfill in the region.

Such a project would be years down the road, Cue said, and King George County officials would have to approve it. But because the process takes so long, it’s time to begin discussions.

“I have to start it, I have to get the ball rolling,” Cue said.

Supervisors said they had no problems with him getting preliminary drawings of what a vertical expansion would look like. Cue said it should take about four months to get the renderings, which would show potential views from State Route 3 and neighboring vantages.

He said an expansion about 100 feet high would add 15 years to the life of the landfill. The trash wouldn’t be stacked straight up, Cue said, but would be arranged in “benches,” similar to terraced landscaping.

Vertical expansions, which feature mechanically stabilized earth berms, “are very common throughout the country,” said Bryan Wehler, vice president of an engineering firm in Hershey, Pa., that specializes in waste management.

About half the states in the nation have them, Wehler said. Pennsylvania has more than 10.

Localities often go vertical at existing landfills instead of finding “a new, green space for a new landfill,” said Richard Doucette, a manager in the Northern Virginia office of Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality. The state approves one or two expansions a year, he said.

“It does make more sense not to use up an area that could be used for something else,” he said. Also, at a landfill, “the land is already perfectly designed, and a lot of the infrastructure is already in place.”

COUNTY GETS $5 A TON

Cue is looking ahead, as 2012 was the halfway point of the landfill’s life expectancy.

The facility opened in 1996 and is expected to reach capacity by 2028. While it has brought its share of controversy—from truck traffic, rotten-egg odors and the disposal of partially cremated remains of service members—the landfill has been a cash cow for King George.

The county gets $5 for each ton of garbage dumped at the landfill. It also gets 10 percent of the revenue generated from Waste Management’s gas-to-energy plant. 

That operation turns methane gas—a natural byproduct of trash—into electricity and sells it to Dominion Power.

In 2012, King George got almost $7 million in landfill revenue. The total was higher than the yearly average (about $6.4 million for the three previous years) because the landfill took in more trash in 2012 than for a typical year, Cue said.

The county allowed the extra tonnage because the landfill didn’t meet its trash quota in 2010 and 2011.

King George uses the landfill money to pay back debt. County officials have talked for several years about how to replace the revenue when the landfill closes, but Supervisor Ruby Brabo said there’s “no solid plan in place to generate the replacement revenue needed.”

“Extending the life of the landfill is a necessity at this point,” she said, adding that the county debt totals $73 million. The landfill expansion “is critical to the county’s bottom line.”

Supervisor John LoBuglio said he’ll approach the potential expansion with an open mind, but that public safety and water quality will be his primary concerns.

Chairman Dale Brooks Jr. and Supervisor Joe Grzeika did not respond to a reporter’s request for comments. Supervisor Cedell Brooks Jr. was sick the night Cue made his presentation and did not attend the meeting.

‘LIKE A GRASSY HILL’

County zoning ordinances will dictate the height of the vertical expansion, and DEQ will oversee requirements for slope and stability, Doucette said.

The expansions are  manmade structures that need to be maintained the same way as bridges, buildings and other infrastructures, said Wehler, the waste-management company executive.

Vertical expansions in other landfills typically go up 100 to 150 feet, depending on their size. Doucette said that at one proposed site in Fairfax County, officials put weather balloons around to illustrate how the expanded landfill would look from neighboring viewpoints.

 DEQ suggests using cover landscaping to camouflage the expansion, “so it doesn’t look like a big pile of trash,” Doucette said.

He said the King George landfill already makes the area look as pleasant as possible for a place that handles 4,000 tons of trash a day.

From the road, “It just looks like a grassy hill,” Doucette said.

 Cathy Dyson:   540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

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