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Waste plan finds few fans

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A new Stafford watchdog group is questioning the approval process for a waste-to-energy facility at the regional landfill, particularly the import of up to 10 truckloads of tires per day.

Stafford Citizens for Open Government drew about 40 people to England Run Library Monday afternoon to discuss the proposed $73 million privately financed project that could start operating by the end of 2014.

But a grassroots network dedicated to energy says the process of pyrolysis—which Energy Extraction Partners LLC proposes using to convert trash into energy at high temperatures in the absence of oxygen—is simply incineration.

“It’s still combustion, it’s still incineration,” said Mike Ewall of the Washington-based Energy Justice Network. Byproducts include toxic ash and toxic air emissions, he said, arguing that there’s no way to just turn waste into energy.

Many pyrolysis units have been proposed, but currently no commercial-scale units are built or operational in the U.S., Ewall said.

“I’d be shocked if this got built,” Ewall said after his presentation.

The R–Board, which governs the jointly owned Rappahannock Regional Landfill, took up waste-to-energy proposals last fall, eventually selecting EEP’s proposal for a 150,000-square-foot plant on 11 acres of landfill property. In addition to an annual rent of $100,000, the company would pay a $1 million advance—due at the end of July—but the county expects to receive it this week. EEP will sell 15 megawatts to Dominion Virginia Power.

Supporters and county officials have touted the project as a way to extend the landfill’s lifetime.

In March, Stafford’s Board of Supervisors removed a level of approval required for government-owned property, specifically the conditional use permit for any proposed power-generating facility, a move that cut layers of public input and studies.

Ruth Carlone, moderator for Monday’s meeting and a former planning commissioner, said the watchdog group will push for the board to retract that vote.

Supervisors then granted the county administrator authority to execute a 20-year lease in June; that lease is still being drafted.

“The public was not able to see the lease that the public hearing was on,” former Hartwood supervisor Joe Brito said at Monday’s meeting. “How can you have a public hearing on a document that isn’t there?”

Stafford’s initial documents included no mention of tires, pointed out Linda Muller, chairman of the Rappahannock Group of the Sierra Club, who worries about the residual leftovers from the tires, such as ash and tar. The company said it’ll look for other markets to sell those byproducts; otherwise, they’ll be disposed of in the landfill.

Former supervisor David Beiler asked if the lease would be before the board again for approval.

“It won’t need to,” said deputy county administrator Keith Dayton, who attended Monday’s meeting.

The Fredericksburg City Council must also approve the lease before the project can proceed. The council gave a preliminary OK in July and is due to take a final vote Aug. 13.

Before that happens, though, Stafford’s watchdog group hopes to change public and government opinion of the project.

They’ll meet at 7 p.m. Monday at the library on Lyons Boulevard, and are pushing for speakers in council’s chambers Tuesday evening.

The Stafford School Board will also discuss the project Tuesday, at member Holly Hazard’s request. She hopes the board will ask supervisors to delay action and implementation of the waste treatment facility “until all school impacts have been addressed and examined,” she said in an email.

But Dayton said Monday that the pyrolysis system is not an incinerator. “You won’t see black smoke from tires burning or anything like that,” he told the approximately 40 people at the library. Any emissions would have to be scrubbed, and pass Department of Environmental Quality tests, he said.

The current draft of the lease would allow up to 10 truckloads of tires to be brought to the facility on Eskimo Hill Road each day, he said. Tires stabilize energy levels in the municipal solid waste stream, or what most people call trash.

Plans don’t call for smokestacks, only for “vent stacks” for heat generated by the turbines and pyrolysis unit, according to a county list of frequently asked questions.

But Ewall, of the Energy Justice Network, disagreed. “All these have smokestacks. Make them cough up some real data. They’ll have to have a smokestack.”

Along with many other statistics on health and finances, along with examples of other projects, Ewall said pollutants from waste incinerators are far worse than what’s produced from burning coal.

Commented Stafford resident Alane Callander, “This is the best science class I’ve ever had.”

Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975