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Landfill work to cost millions of dollars

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK -- The exact cost to expand Shenandoah County's landfill remains unknown, but early estimates put the price at $3.2 million.

The Board of Supervisors on Thursday heard a report by the contracted firm SCS Engineers on the county's current and future plans for the landfill. Paul Mandeville, an engineer with the firm, presented the report to update the board on the trash disposal needs for the landfill. The board expects to hear a separate report Tuesday that relates to the issue of groundwater contamination from the landfill.

The report made on Thursday focused on the scope of the expansion project itself, but Mandeville gave some preliminary estimates on the cost to expand the landfill by creating new cells.

County Administrator Mary T. Price explained that the current cost estimate of $3.2 million could change depending on the bids that come in from firms interested in the project. Mandeville did point out to the board that the county could save approximately $600,000 by raising the cells above the bedrock, thus reducing the cost of excavation and blasting.

Price's budget presentation given to the board last week calls for the county to take $1.6 million from savings to pay half the cost of the project, as a one-time expense.

The report did not address the current issue of leachate leaving the closed landfill cells and entering the water table. SCS plans to present an update on its efforts to test the groundwater and look at potential solutions.

The landfill, which spans 37.5 acres, currently includes cells that began accepting trash in 1985 and closed in 2004. The two cells were constructed before federal and state environmental monitoring agencies imposed stricter regulations on landfill.

The future phases of the landfill span 25 acres and come with 35-60 years of useful life, Mandeville explained. The phases involve the excavation of about 850,000 cubic yards.

The county is running out of time to build the next cells. Mandeville said the cells currently in use have about two years left. The county would need to begin construction of the next phases of the landfill in 2015 to open and begin taking trash by 2016. Mandeville estimated the construction would take about 18 months.

The cost to excavate the landfill in 2006, as provided by the contractor hired to do the work on the second phase of the project, was $8 per cubic yard. The total estimate for excavation related to phases 3-9 puts the cost at $7-$10 million, based on current dollars.

But as Mandeville explained, the engineer's approach to building the next phases would reduce the amount of excavation needed by 250,000 cubic yards and save the county $2 million to $2.5 million. Excavators face running into rock as they digger deeper, Mandeville said. He advised that reducing the amount of excavation also results in the landfill losing some of its useful life.

Under the engineer's plan, the excavation of phase 3 of the landfill expansion would be reduced by 75,000 cubic yards, saving more than $600,000.

Another aspect of the project calls for creating additional volume for the landfill by "piggybacking" onto cells referred to 8 and 9. This increases the volume by more than 1 million cubic yards. Cells 8 and 9 would be recapped with a membrane that protects the landfill from rainwater. Mandeville said the Department of Environmental Quality supports "piggybacking" because of this benefit.

By "piggybacking" cells and raising the bottom of the landfill, the landfill grows by 750,000-1 million cubic yards and adds 10 years of useful life, Mandeville said. That increases the useful life to between 40 and 70 years. The total excavation would also cost $2 million less.

The county had the first phase of a newer, lined landfill built in 2001-2002, Mandeville said. The next phase was built two years later. The first two phases began accepting trash in 2003 but are expected to reach the end of their life expectancy in two years. The first phases have a gross volume of about 1.1 million cubic yards, but only about 150,000 cubic yards remain available.

Mandeville noted the need to move forward on setting up the next phases of the project to allow the county to collect more trash.

The DEQ granted a change in the landfill permit in 2006 to increase its "airspace" from 3.8 million cubic yards to 5.3 million cubic yards on the same 37-acre site. Mandeville said this allowance gave the county "a lot more bang for our buck" by going steeper and higher with the landfill.

In response to comments by Chairman David Ferguson about use of the landfill, Mandeville noted that trash to the facility has declined over the years, primarily as a result of the economic recession and the related impact on the construction industry.

"Actually, the first sign of a recession is when trash disposal goes down" Mandeville said. "People just aren't buying as much. Everyone saw that throughout Virginia and the U.S. Trash was down 20-40 percent."

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

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