BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) – Two key elements of the prescription to fix the intrusive odors emanating from the Bristol, Virginia Landfill were set into motion Tuesday morning by a city council vote.
But council members learned there is still much work that needs funding to the tune of $54.7 million.
The Bristol, Virginia City Council met to discuss awarding two bids to engineering firm SCS Field Services for the construction of a sidewall odor mitigation system and landfill gas operation, monitoring and maintenance.
The landfill’s sidewalls, located on the edges of the quarry-style landfill, are believed to be a primary source of the escaping gases that have descended upon much of Bristol, according to the findings of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) expert panel report back in April.
Officials believe gases are escaping through “chimneys” in the sidewall. The city hopes the sidewall odor mitigation system can stop much of that gas from reaching the surface.
Residents in both Bristol, Virginia and Tennessee are hopeful, too, that the system can alleviate some of the smell that has become commonplace in town.
“If this is successful, this is going to take care of most of those emissions coming from that landfill at this time,” said HOPE for Bristol President Joel Kellogg. “We’re confident, we’re hopeful. Our community is just reeling from the constant assault of this. It’s day and night now.”
The council awarded the lone bid to SCS at a cost of $11,998,080.
“Unfortunately, this is the only bid that we received for this project,” said Bristol, Virginia City Manager Randall Eads. “And maybe for the foreseeable future, we only have one bid, based on our current situation with federal litigation and the issues associated with the landfill.”
The project will come in two phases. First, a pilot system will be constructed to test the system’s effectiveness. That must be completed by Dec. 31, according to SCS’s bid.
Then, the full system, which surrounds the entire landfill must be completed by next June. That deadline was set in Bristol, Tennessee’s lawsuit over the landfill against its sister city.
The city also awarded a $66,000/month bid to SCS for routine, weekly gas monitoring through a gas collection and control system. That bid also requires SCS to perform non-routine operations and monitoring, and non-routine maintenance and repairs, although a price is not set for those tasks.
But those expenses are just a fraction of the cost across a wide range of projects that must be addressed before Bristol, Virginia closes off the landfill completely.
Eads informed the council that the city has seven projects, including the sidewall odor system, that will cost the city approximately $54.7 million.
Those projects include closing off both landfills within the solid waste facility. Eads estimated Landfill 588, the larger of the two, to cost $20 million based on an estimate from back when the landfill was first built.
Closing the smaller Landfill 498 would cost $6.5 million.
Then, the removal of benzene from the landfill’s leachate system and grading of its stormwater system is estimated to cost another $6.5 million each.
Tack on $2.3 million for an expansion of the large diameter gas well system and another $1 million for cover and shaping of the landfill, and suddenly, Bristol, Virginia is looking at a big bill without the means to fully fund it.
That $54.7 million does not include the decades of maintenance necessary after the landfill is capped and closed.
“This landfill is truly going to be the financial nail that buries us,” said council member Kevin Wingard, who leaves the council in the new year.
Kellogg said residents have suffered enough, and now it is up to the council to find the funding for the measures needed to stop the smell.
“The right decisions are to keep that thing closed, to get these emissions taken care of, bring some peace to our community in their own homes,” Kellogg said. “Unfortunately, they’re going to have to make a huge effort to secure enough money to make this happen quickly and safely.”
Council member Neal Osborne said the city does not have the money to fund it on its own and would need to reach out to higher levels of government for help.
“This is going to be something where we need money from the state. We need money from the federal government,” Osborne said. “We will take money from anybody that wants to give us money.”
Osborne added the city may have some tough decisions to make once the 2024 budget rolls around, but he wants to avoid a tax hike or cutting programs.
“For us to increase the tax burden for the amount that would be needed to cover this would be undoable, so we have to find outside sources,” Osborne said.
Two options were presented by Wingard and Eads respectively, in an attempt to ease the long-term cost of landfill closure.
Wingard suggested that if the mitigation strategies work and the smell alleviates, the city could examine re-opening the landfill to fill it completely.
Mayor Anthony Farnum said he would rather fill it to the top with dirt or rock rather than trash.
Eads suggested mining out the current waste at the landfill and hauling it elsewhere. He estimated that would cost around $250 million but would prevent the long-term cost of maintaining the closed landfill.
City leaders estimate their bill will go up should the current mitigation strategies not work.
Council newcomer Michael Pollard said the city needs to keep a close eye on SCS to make sure things go as planned.
“We need to make sure with regular oversight that our consultants and contract engineers do exactly what they’re supposed to be doing,” Pollard said.
The sidewall liner funding includes around $1 million for a pilot system to test its effectiveness. Farnum said that most of the materials for it have been secured, and construction would begin soon.