Landfill costs keep rising

By Alex Bridges

Shenandoah County has spent several hundreds of thousands of dollars fixing its old landfill and can expect costs to keep going up.

SCS Engineers created a corrective action plan for the county that outlines measures aimed at chemicals and compounds from leaking into area groundwater. The contracted firm has until Saturday to submit the plan to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

Jennifer Robb, project manager for SCS, gave a report on the plan at the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday. The corrective action plan calls for ongoing monitoring of areas at or near the closed cells and extracting the liquids that emanate from the landfill, also called leachate.

DEQ regulations allow the county to wait until the state agency formally approves the corrective action plan to begin implementing the recommended measures, Robb said by phone Thursday. However, the agency can let the county landfill move forward without that approval in the interim until the plan receives the green light, Robb explained. The approval process can take months and other municipalities have moved forward without formal approval.

“So really, I think at this point in time it’s just a matter of do they have the funding available to go ahead and start implementing the corrective action now,” Robb said.

Earlier this year, SCS provided a cost estimate to the county of $155,000. That amount includes $55,000 for the semi-annual groundwater sampling, lab analysis and reporting for DEQ compliance; and $100,000 for miscellaneous, non-routine groundwater monitoring, corrective action design and to implement remedial measures.

The proposed county budget for fiscal 2015 includes money for the corrective action measures, County Administrator Mary T. Price said Thursday.

The county budget for refuse disposal includes money for professional services and engineering. The county spent $125,230 in fiscal 2011 and $69,019 in fiscal 2012. The county budgeted $87,500 in fiscal 2013 but actually spent $134,887. The current budget includes $87,500, but the amount spent won’t be available until later in the year. The county projects spending $285,500 in fiscal 2015.

“In the past, evidently no one ever requested estimates from our engineer, SCS,” Price said. “We did that this year in preparation.”

Once the county approves its budget and the amounts earmarked for the landfill project, SCS will provide documents that specifically outline the scope of work and related cost estimates, Robb said.

County officials were given few options to solve the issue. Landfill mining — excavating the entire site, installing a liner and putting the contents back on the site — costs millions of dollars, Robb said. Should the county take no action, the DEQ could issue a notice of violation and then a consent order that would outline measures the government must do to fix the problems.

The county already has implemented other steps included in the corrective action plan, such as the inclusion of a cap made of clay to reduce the amount of rainwater that infiltrates the landfill and causes more leachate to seep out. The county also has installed a system that extracts and burns off the gas generated by decomposing trash that adds to the leachate.

The county budgets for fiscal 2013 and 2014 include $572,891 for the landfill gas system. The project came in under budget at $525,000 when completed last fall by Joyce Engineering. SCS plans to take over the monitoring of the gas system in June from Joyce, Price explained.

Robb acknowledged that measures may not fix the issue but should help.

“We don’t like to use the term ‘solves the problem,'” Robb said. “We are trying to mitigate the problem.

“As long as the source is there, there could potentially be an issue, so we are trying to mitigate and do the best we can to limit or reduce the impact from the landfill to the groundwater and try to protect human health and the environment,” Robb added. “The idea is to prevent future migration of groundwater from the landfill and let nature degrade what’s already extended beyond the landfill property.”

Robb noted that conditions within the landfill can change as materials degrade or decompose that can affect groundwater.

Groundwater collected from wells dug from three sites on or near the closed landfill cells contained concentrations of metals such as arsenic, cobalt and thallium, or volatile, organic compounds. Groundwater collected from private, residential wells near the landfill and tested show no such concentrations of either metals or compounds.

Cells 8 and 9 opened in the mid 1980s. In the 1990s, the county capped the older cells with clay but then put more trash on top. The county installed pipes to collect leachate from the added layer of trash and send the liquid off-site for treatment. Whether those pipes and the collection system still work remains unknown, Robb said.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com