BRISTOL, Tenn. (WJHL) – A letter from Bristol, Tennessee’s legal council sent to Bristol, Virginia city leaders sets demands for the latter’s response to the Bristol, Virginia landfill odors. If not met, it could mean legal action.
Tuesday night, the Bristol, Tennessee City Council voted unanimously to authorize the city’s outside legal counsel to pursue legal action if any of their demands were not met.
It comes as an expert panel formed by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) will descend upon the landfill to give recommendations on the city’s next steps later in March.
A letter from the Bristol, Tennessee’s legal counsel, Troutman Pepper Hamilton Sanders LLP, addressed to Bristol, Virginia City Manager Randall Eads and DEQ Director Michael Rolband was sent on Monday.
It lists four main demands.
The letter states, “It is Bristol, TN’s expectation that these recommendations will include:”
- The actions necessary to address the violations and the noxious odors associated with the landfill
- A timeline in which those actions can be completed, not to exceed 24 months
- The estimated cost of completing the actions and how those costs will be funded
- Feasible plans for early closure of the landfill
Bristol, Tennessee’s understanding of the timeline is that final recommendations from the panel will be issued on April 7. Then, a consent order between Bristol, Virginia, and the DEQ that includes an action plan to address all permit violations on site will be issued April 30.
Bristol, Tennessee expects the consent order with action plan to include its demands. Bristol, Tennessee Vice Mayor Vince Turner clarified that if an action plan was not prepared by April 30, the city could enter litigation as soon as that point.
Tuesday night’s vote was the final action Bristol, Tennessee council needed to take in the potential legal battle. Whether or not Bristol, Tennessee sues is entirely dependent on the Bristol, Virginia/DEQ panel.
“We’re talking about a consent order being in place by April 30th,” Turner said. “We don’t have to meet again. We don’t have to vote on anything else. It’s done. Please get this handled.”
Most council members were disappointed they had to take this type of action to make sure the landfill situation had a plan in place.
“I am saddened that it has come to this point,” Council member Lea Powers said. “We have at every turn, tried to extend every opportunity for those who have created this situation and who are trying to address this situation to step up and correct.”
Several Bristol residents gathered in the Slater Center, hopeful the pressure would lead to solutions, but were wary of letting their guard down.
“We have to keep pushing if we want it done because people shouldn’t have to live like that,” said Jacquelyne Burrell-Booher in public comment.
In a Dec. 8 council meeting, the Bristol, Tennessee council voted to issue a Notice of Intent to Sue to Bristol, Virginia. That was done under what Bristol, Tennessee called “continued violations of the Clean Air Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the maintenance of a nuisance.”
Tuesday’s resolution states Bristol, Tennessee is ready to pursue litigation “should it become apparent that no progress is being made toward developing or implementing a legally enforceable action plan, or if the action plan, once developed, is not funded and pursued in accordance with its terms.”
The resolution states Bristol, Virginia “has not taken” an adequate response to Bristol, Tennessee’s original Notice of Intent to Sue.
In the letter, attorneys for Bristol, Tennessee revealed that Bristol, Virginia has not yet responded to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted on Jan. 11. The letter calls on Bristol, Virginia to produce the requested information by March 11 in the interest of transparency.
The push for stricter legal guidelines on Bristol, Virginia comes as a recently-announced DEQ panel will be on the ground at the landfill March 21-22.
It also expressed Bristol, Tennessee’s desire to participate in the evaluation and receive regular updates on progress as an action plan is developed.
In the resolution, Bristol, Tennessee praised the DEQ for its creation of the expert panel and designation of emergency funds to support that, saying it was “a greater desire to resolve the issues at the Bristol, Virginia Landfill than has previously been demonstrated.”
Bristol, Tennessee was hopeful that DEQ’s involvement could lead to a resolution to the landfill issue.
In the meantime, the letter states that odors could worsen. They urged Bristol, Virginia to match a $50,000 investment in air purifiers as done by Bristol, Tennessee, and Sullivan County. That was listed in addition to the thousands raised by local non-profit HOPE for Bristol.
News Channel 11 reached out to Bristol, Virginia City Manager Randall Eads and Mayor Anthony Farnum. Both declined to comment, but Eads left a statement saying, “Based on the potential for litigation with Bristol, Tn., the City will not comment on the letter or any other item associated at the landfill at this time.”