BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) – A timeline is now set for the closure of the Bristol, Virginia landfill after city leaders agreed to a preliminary injunction filed by Bristol, Tennessee.
The sister cities are engaged in a legal battle over the landfill as its pungent odors have intruded into homes and businesses for the last year and a half.
At a Bristol, Virginia City Council meeting, city leaders agreed unanimously on the terms of the preliminary injunction, which would see the landfill closed by September 12.
Also on that date, Bristol, Virginia must have temperature-monitoring thermocouples and adequate cover on top of the landfill installed.
By June 2023, Bristol, Virginia must have a sidewall odor mitigation system in place to capture gases escaping on the sides of the landfill.
Samuel Weddington, a Bristol pastor who has pushed for landfill action with the Bristol Area Ministerial Alliance for months, said Tuesday night’s approval of the injunction was a victory for the city.
“It’s been a long road to get us where we are today, but I’m so thankful to each and every person who helped get us here,” Weddington said.
Bristol, Virginia Mayor Anthony Farnum said the city is working with its contracted engineering firm, SCS Engineering, to prepare the landfill for closure and the installation of the thermocouples and cover.
“They’re giving us regular updates. They’ve given us timelines about what they can do. So we feel very confident to be able to agree to do these things,” Farnum said. “It’s important for us to do all we can as fast as we can to fix the issues that we have.”
In a statement, Bristol, Tennessee said it will be monitoring Bristol, Virginia’s compliance with the injunction.
“We will continue to monitor Bristol VA’s compliance with the measures and timelines outlined in the injunction, and that we look forward to continuing a positive working relationship as we move closer toward resolution of the issues that the landfill has caused in the Bristol community.”
Farnum said closing the landfill would force the city to lose a significant chunk of revenue, as the landfill serves localities across Southwest Virginia.
“It’s a significant amount of revenue and we have a significant amount of expenses,” Farnum said. “We’ve all been working on this together – the council, the public works department, the finance department to figure out how to get it done.”
He said the city would soon seek a request for proposals from other landfills to find a new location for the city’s solid waste.
Farnum said plans to build another city-operated landfill are not in the works at this time.
But the landfill’s closure has already forced some Southwest Virginia localities to move their trash elsewhere, and that could come at a cost.
Smyth County Administrator Shawn Utt said the county board of directors voted to send its trash to the Eco-Safe Landfill in Blountville, Tennessee.
But that increases the county’s solid waste costs from $17.30 per ton at Bristol to $35 per ton at Blountville, double the previous cost.
“It’ll double those costs. I don’t think we’ll need to be looking at doubling our rates for the commercial traffic that comes across our scales, but we’ll have to increase it. It’ll still be a significant increase,” Utt said.
Utt said the county must also consider fuel costs traveling to the Blountville landfill, which is 12 miles further down the road from the Bristol landfill.
He said residential trash convenience stations will continue to be free to use for Smyth County residents.
Despite the victory for the Bristol residents wanting the landfill closed, Weddington said the city still has work to do to make things right.
During public comment, Weddington called on city government to be more transparent and provide direct relief to citizens.
“At a minimum, on an idealistic time schedule, we still have a year plus of having to endure smells,” Weddington said. “They need help with things like purifiers, maybe even a weekend out of Bristol.”
You can read the full preliminary injunction below.
Bristol, Virginia’s next deadline is submitting its plan of action to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality by July 6.
That must incorporate all recommendations from a DEQ expert panel earlier this year.