BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) — The City of Bristol can avoid a lawsuit with the Commonwealth of Virginia over landfill issues if it meets the terms of a consent decree announced Friday. The decree orders Bristol to pay $92,000 to reimburse the costs of an expert panel but will have a $377,697 civil penalty suspended if it meets the consent decree’s other terms.

The city called the decree “a critical next step in our concerted efforts to resolve challenges at the Bristol Quarry Landfill” in a post on its website. The head of a local advocacy group said he was disappointed and felt the order doesn’t provide enough protections for citizens.

The decree, which now faces a public comment period, includes the promise of $2 million in state funding to help offset Bristol’s costs in adequately addressing ongoing issues and more than a dozen violations at the landfill.

“There’s going to be some review and there’s going to be some public comment,” a disappointed Joel Kellogg, president of HOPE For Bristol, told News Channel 11.

The state funding, already set aside by the legislature, will be freed up if Bristol satisfactorily meets the schedule of compliance attached to the decree and shows expenditures it’s made for that work. Bristol must go through the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) for reimbursement.

The consent decree comes two weeks to the day after Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares filed suit against the city on behalf of the DEQ.

That landfill issue, which has been ongoing for more than two years, remains under court jurisdiction until the consent decree is terminated. That termination is dependent on “Bristol’s completion of all the actions set forth in Appendices A and B (the schedules of compliance).”

Bristol must request termination once it believes it has met all the required actions in the decree and if DEQ and the Office of Attorney General (OAG) agree, they can file a joint stipulation terminating the decree.

If they don’t agree the conditions have been met, the plaintiffs submit that in writing within 60 days of Bristol’s request, which could transfer the case to a dispute resolution process.

Some tight timelines

The specific work Bristol must complete is a mix of already finished mediation and ongoing improvements. One appendix covers work to be done at one of the three licensed landfills there, Solid Waste Permit (SWP) 588.

The city is required to develop and implement “an active community outreach program” within 30 days of the decree’s effective date. That program must include status updates and progress reports, receive citizen feedback and share the city’s strategies.

Other pending requirements for SWP 588 include:

  • Installation of five large-diameter “dual-phase” extraction wells “into the waste mass” by June 30, 2023 to help remove gas and leachate.
  • Design and install a perimeter gas collection system near the landfill’s sidewalls by March 15, 2023.
  • Build and initiate a pilot sidewall odor mitigation system by Feb. 10 of this year and complete such a system around the entire landfill by June 14, 2023.
  • Provide waste temperature monitoring data beginning Feb. 15.
  • Submit a design for an ethyl vinyl alcohol (EVOH) cover system over the entire landfill by Jan. 30 and install that EVOH system within 60 days of completing all other remedial actions for SWP 588, and no later than a year from now.

Joel Kellogg said aside from the sidewall emission mitigation system and a geomembrane cover, “everything in there is things that city of Bristol Virginia should have been doing all along to properly maintain a landfill according to regulations. So this is nothing.”

He criticized the decree’s lack of air monitoring requirements along the landfill’s perimeter or in the communities most directly affected by the gases and odors coming from the now-closed facility.

HOPE For Bristol President Joel Kellogg said he’s unhappy with the consent decree. (WJHL photo)

“There’s no protections for citizens when they start drilling these large-diameter wells into this thing,” Kellogg said. “It is just disappointing beyond belief,” he added, saying he felt let down by the Attorney General’s office and the statewide DEQ.

“I think our local office was actually trying to get some protections for citizens in place.”

A second schedule of compliance covers SWP 498 landfill and SWP 221 landfill. It’s smaller than the 588 requirements but includes remaining requirements to repair and replace inoperable pumps by Jan. 31, 2023.

The compliance schedule also requires Bristol to “optimize the performance” of those landfills’ existing gas extraction system. It requires a plan to install final cover over SWP 498 and it tasks Bristol with completing all work for “eliminating areas of ponding and repair of seeps” by April 30.

In its post, the city expressed appreciation for the time and effort DEQ and the attorney general’s office put into helping Bristol reach the agreement with the state.

“We are fully committed to addressing and resolving challenges at the Bristol quarry landfill in an environmentally sound manner.”