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Plan gets more scrutiny

MORE: Read more Stafford County news

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Elected officials in Stafford County and Fredericksburg say they will take a closer look at the proposed waste-to-energy plant at the regional landfill before final votes on the project.

Reacting to public complaints about lack of information on the project, county and city officials said on Wednesday they plan to slow down the approval process.

Fredericksburg’s City Council was scheduled to take a final vote Tuesday, but has pushed that back to later this month.

The city’s approval of the 20-year lease with Energy Extraction Partners LLC would push forward the $73 million facility.

The Stafford Board of Supervisors had approved the plant in June and allowed the county administrator to give final approval of the lease.

The board will revisit that decision during its next meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the government center.

Residents and elected officials have begun asking tough questions about the plant, which would use a process known as pyrolysis to heat trash—and shredded used tires—to produce a gas that can power turbines to produce electricity to sell to Dominion Virginia Power. Pyrolysis units are a newer, little-tested technology that have been used in Europe and Asia.

“You don’t know what you don’t know,” said Stafford Supervisor Cord Sterling of Rock Hill. He wants the county board to prohibit signing of the lease, conduct environmental studies and review a design of the facility before voting on a final lease.

He said he’s disappointed that a draft lease wasn’t included when the board took a vote on June 4 authorizing the county administrator to execute one.

Aquia Supervisor Paul Milde, who has pushed the project for months, contends that the project will extend the landfill’s lifetime indefinitely because waste will produce energy instead of going in the ground.

“The foundations of this agreement are starting to shake based on what I think has all been misinformation,” said Milde, chairman of the R–Board, the governing authority of the Rappahannock Regional Landfill, jointly owned by the city and county. Both local governments must give approval before the project can move forward.

“I don’t mind taking some time to answer more questions, but I don’t think that’s what the goal is here,” Milde said. He considers the controversy a political stunt by the new group, Stafford Citizens for Open Government. “They don’t have solutions.”

But other Stafford supervisors have additional questions, along with those from residents. They hope to get some answers Tuesday.

Stafford Board Chairwoman Susan Stimpson said she was comfortable with her affirmative vote when she cast it, based on the information presented. But she wonders if too much reliance was placed on the state-required permitting process from the Department of Environmental Quality.

“If there is no danger as far as pollutants, if it literally can be turned from waste to energy without a negative impact on the environment, then I would say it’s doing what it’s supposed to,” Stimpson said. “The concept of that probably most of us can agree would be a good thing. It’s just, what does that process exactly look like?

“That’s where I have some questions. I should have drilled down a little deeper and I think that we may have been relying on DEQ to drill down.”

Sterling said Wednesday that he is genuinely concerned about bringing outside trash—mainly used tires—into the county to fuel the plant’s pyrolysis system.

He said a lack of information provided to the board has led to misinformation.

“The company didn’t present it,” Sterling said. He added that he had been under the impression that no draft of the lease existed, but now believes there had been, and that it included information about tires.

At the June 4 meeting, the board voted 5–0, with Bob Thomas absent and Sterling abstaining because his employer deals with GE, the manufacturer of the pyrolysis unit.

Sterling now says that is not a conflict of interest, and does not wish to recuse himself from voting, based on an opinion from Stafford Commonwealth’s Attorney Eric Olsen.

Additional information about the lease was made public leading up to the City Council’s July 9 public hearing.

Original county documents posted online do not include information about EEP trucking in tires to the plant from outside localities.

Concerns about using tires are fueled by reports of accidental tire fires that can take months, or years, to extinguish. Residents also worry about increased pollution that may be emitted into the air.

Milde said that EEP would not store tires outside.

“We’re going to make them prove all the stuff they say before they do anything,” Milde said. “We’re going to hold them to their commitments. I will be the first guy to shut this down.”

The deadline for an advance payment of $1 million from EEP to the county, to be used for improvements to Eskimo Hill Road, was extended by the R–Board to July 26.

That has yet to be paid.

“I’m figuring if it doesn’t come in before the meeting, he’s toast,” Milde said about EEP’s president Joe Yavorski. “That’s non-negotiable. That proves he has skin in the game.”

Katie Thisdell: 540/735-1975