County purchases land to serve as buffer from dump

FRONT ROYAL – The county recently purchased a conservation easement for land off Bentonville Road to prevent the construction of wells in the vicinity of a defunct landfill.

The Board of Supervisors at its regular Tuesday meeting approved a $150,000 deed of conservation easement land purchase from Lorraine Smelser and her daughter Joy Fairfax. It was approved unanimously with abstention by Supervisor Linda Glavis because Smelser is her sister.

County Attorney Dan Whitten said whenever the matter was brought up in closed session, Glavis also abstained from the discussion. Warren County Public Works Director Mike Berry added that she never made an attempt outside of meetings to champion the deal.

Berry said the Department of Environmental Quality oversees the landfill, and the county has hired Joyce Engineering to monitor the area for pollutants and ensure that all regulations are met.

He said seven wells are regularly monitored for contaminants. Two of those wells – one at Fairfax’s property, the other on property belonging to the Lockhart family – have been infiltrated by a minuscule amount of volatile organic compounds. Those wells are protected by filters and produce usable water.

The easement, Berry said, is a precautionary measure aiming to ensure the property is safe and to contain any pollution. He added that the land will hopefully go back to its natural state over time.

Fairfax owns .93 acres and an accompanying house, all which is covered by the easement. She will receive $125,000.

Smelser owns 99.2 and she is set to receive $25,000 for about 11.3 acres of the property.

Whitten said the $150,000 price was based on the last assessed value of land and the house, while Fairfax and Smelser decided how the money should be split.

Whitten said the easement would remain in place if the house or land is sold.

Berry said Smelser’s and Fairfax’s property could see future development and Joyce engineering thought it would be best to prevent wells from being built. He added that the easement would be much cheaper than installing new monitoring systems for any future wells built.

Berry said a .6-acre lot owned by the Lockharts, however, will likely not be developed and therefore was not offered the same deal as Fairfax and Smelser. He said the county approached the Lockharts regarding an outright purchase of their land and house. In this scenario, they would have been required to move.

Conservation easements, on the other hand, allow residents to remain. Berry said the Lockharts were not interested and a dollar amount was never offered.