EnviroSolutions Inc., the owner of the Lorton Landfill has asked the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to extend its operating contract from 2018 to 2040 in exchange for $26 million in green energy incentives and $15 million from ESI revenues over the life of the agreement.
The South County Federation, in April, voted unanimously in opposition of the extension, unless the company forgets about the green energy proposal and agrees to build a public recreation center on-site identical to the 7,000 square-foot South Run Rec. Center in Springfield.
"The facility would cost $50 million. We can't afford that," said Conrad Meehan, ESI's Director of Government Relations and Community Affairs, to Patch.
Sizing Up the Situation
ESI has owned the 250-acre landfill since 1981. At 355 feet, it's the tallest point in Fairfax County, and, in 2006, the Board of Supervisors voted to lift the landfill's height limit from 290 feet to 412 feet. In exchange, ESI agreed to a date of certain closure of Dec. 31, 2018, and the construction of Overlook Ridge - a massive passive recreation park to be turned over to and managed by the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA).
ESI pledged to build the Overlook Ridge in five phases, provided that the Park Authority would indemnify the company from any potential legal liabilities after the keys were handed over.
Plans for Overlook Ridge included planting thousands of trees and constructing picnic areas, pavilions, storm water management ponds and miles of trails. But, in 2009, a legal dispute broke out between FCPA and ESI over potential environmental liabilities. The FCPA backed out, leaving ESI committed to opening a park that it did not want to manage or build.
"The Park Authority was willing to enter into the agreement," said Park Authority Board Member Lynwood Gorham, "and in the 11th hour the County Attorney's office came to us and said: 'Do you know what you're doing? Do you know what liabilities that you're taking on? You don't want to do this, and we, the County, don't want you to take on the ownership of the property past the closure period."
In the meantime, ESI has pledged to donate $2 million to the Lorton Community Action Center and $550,000 to the Workhouse Arts Center. The company's integration with the Lorton community goes further, since Meehan, who lives in Leesburg, is now the Vice Chair of the Lorton Arts Foundation, which manages the Workhouse.
"Unless something changes, unless we amend the plan, the outcome is that we will build the park," said Meehan. "But there will be no access to it."
Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerry Hyland said a compromise is needed.
"This present application means another 22 years of landfilling, and we still have issues with the last application, because there are conditions that apparently are not going to be met," Hyland told Patch. "We need to have ESI, which wants to continue landfilling, and the community come together to make a consensus and agreement so that we can put the controversy aside."
Hyland questioned why ESI could not build and manage Overlook Ridge, and cited the operation of the nearby Hilltop Golf Course (formerly the Hilltop Landfill) in Lee District as a model. The Hilltop Landfill owners converted the property into an award-winning nine-hole golf course and driving range.
"Why shouldn't we have the same deal in the Mount Vernon District?" said Hyland. "It begs to be resolved and compromised in some way."
The conversion of a landfill to a park would mark a new beginning for Lorton, said Gloria Bannister, president of the South County Federation.
It would mean the "end of a long history of heavy industrial use in Lorton and the beginning of the residential and commercial transformation of Lorton," she said. "ESI’s application ensures at least 22 additional years of a highly visible industrial use in the community with few benefits for Lorton and the South County area."
The Green Option
ESI, which went bankrupt in 2010, operates waste disposal centers across the country. The recession hit the company hard, and for Lorton that meant that the landfill did not fill up as quickly as anticipated. Consequently, ESI is proposing a green energy park in place of Overlook Ridge and a contract extension of the landfill to 2040.
ESI's renewable energy park offer includes:
- The construction of two passive recreation parks on-site to replace Overlook Ridge: A 17-acre piece of open space on the northern end of the property and a five-acre park for the Lorton Valley Community on the eastern portion of the property.
- Three 100-foot-tall wind turbines ($800,000 apiece) in place within three years of plan approval
- A three-acre solar park (the power would be sold to Virginia Dominion Power and profits split 50/50 with the county)
- The construction of a methane recovery facility on a nine-acre ESI property across from the landfill.
- Electricity generated from the methane recovery facility would be given to the Workhouse Arts Center, taking care of an estimated $5 million in annual electricity costs.
- An educational feature at the Workhouse, which would include hologram presentations on the park
- $750,000 a year (15 million over 20 years, starting in 2019) to the County from ESI revenues
Martin Rizer, who chairs the Federation's Land Use Committee, remains pessimistic that ESI will deliver.
"ESI knew all along that they weren't going to build Overlook Ridge," said Rizer. "So, what else do they want? Oh, another 22 years, and, in return they will build a green energy park. But the devil is in the details, and we felt we were robbed by not looking more closely at those details to begin with."
What will ESI do if the county refuses plans for the green energy park?
Unless the County approves the green energy park plan, ESI will open a construction debris recycling facility on a nine-acre of property it owns directly across the street from the landfill. The facility would begin operation as soon as the landfill closes at the end of 2018.
"We will move across the street," said Meehan. "But because of the location it will mean more truck traffic along Furnace Road than there was with the landfill."
ESI would also build Overlook Ridge.
"We'll build the park amenities, and barring a resolution with the Park Authority, we can't grant access," said Meehan. "That would be a shame. I don't think anyone thinks that's a good idea."
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