BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) – City leaders in Bristol, Virginia have a glimmer of hope that they believe could prevent a lawsuit from the state attorney general over the city’s landfill.
The state attorney general’s office announced earlier in January that it was suing Bristol, Virginia over several violations of the state’s environmental laws and regulations. On Friday, the city announced it had entered a consent decree to avoid the Commonwealth’s lawsuit.
Should the city meet the terms of that decree, the lawsuit could be avoided and save Bristol, Virginia hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. If the work required is completed ahead of certain deadlines, Bristol could also be awarded funds from the state to help with ongoing issues at the landfill.
Those funds total $2 million in aid. Additionally, the city faces a $377,697 penalty, but that could also be suspended if the city is successful in meeting the terms.
The deadlines for set by the Commonwealth are staggered throughout the year until the end of June.
They address eight areas of concern both in the recently-closed Landfill 588 and two other landfills on site that have been inactive for some time.
News Channel 11 spoke with Mayor Neal Osborne and other city leaders Monday, who said they believe those terms can be met prior to the deadlines set.
“We have to keep on top of our people doing the work,” Osborne said. “We have to make sure that we’re on track with the timelines.”
City councilmember Michael Pollard said the threat of the $377,679 penalty is a method of making sure Bristol completes its work on time.
“We just need to basically be encouraged to follow through,” Pollard said. “If we can’t afford the repairs, we certainly couldn’t have afforded the fine either.”
Pollard said the $2 million award would be used as reimbursement for the costs incurred by the mitigation strategies listed in the consent decree.
According to Osborne, one of the major challenges that plagued the city’s previous efforts to rectify issues at the landfill is supply chain issues. He said that still remains as an obstacle that city leadership will have to overcome to meet the new deadlines.
“We have to be sure that we’re ordering the things we need to do the work early enough that we can get the work done on time,” Osborne said.
On top of supply chain woes, Bristol has also struggled to find bidders to take on projects at the site outside of its current contractor, SCS Engineering. Pollard said waiting to find contractors only adds to the timeline of completion.
However, Osborne said several of the deadlines set in the decree have already been met and others are in progress. For instance, a pilot version of the sidewall odor mitigation system was due by Feb. 10. Osborne said it is almost complete as of Monday, and a full perimeter version is due by mid-June.
“The good thing with having the pilot portion and having it done very soon is that it’ll give us time to make any kind of adjustments or tweaks if we need to, to the remaining portion,” Osborne said.
Pollard said the city had been working on much of the decree’s terms before it was agreed upon, as those items were listed in an expert panel report from Spring 2022.
“This largely sets down in writing exactly what we’re planning to do, which we’re already starting to do anyway,” Pollard said. “It will help to give people assurance that things are going to continue moving forward.”
City leaders hope that when all the work is complete, it will spell the end of the odor that has plagued both Bristol, Virginia and its sister city across state lines. However, in the short term, the work could mean increased odors.
“The very act of doing so is disturbing the surface which makes things a whole lot rougher on everyone that lives nearby,” Pollard said.
The city council is confident that all the deadlines will be met and the city will be awarded the $2 million, and they are hoping to receive even more help from state lawmakers.
“We’re also excited about the potential for more funding from the general assembly during this session to the tune of $12 million,” Osborne said.
Outside of the terms of the decree, Pollard said he would like to see the city invest in environmental air monitoring, which would measure for air contaminants in areas outside the landfill.
Osborne said the city’s goal continues to be the complete and permanent closure of the landfill.
The cost for the current work and eventual permanent closure was estimated by the city manager to cost around $60 million.
You can read the full consent decree on the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality website by clicking here.
For complete coverage of the ongoing issues at the Bristol, Virginia Landfill, click here.