BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) – Bristol, Virginia leaders and residents heard the first report from a top landfill expert at Monday night’s City Council meeting.
Dr. Craig Benson, a former dean of engineering at the University of Virginia, has worked on similar landfills in the past. He was brought in by the City of Bristol, Virginia to assess the landfill situation.
For more than two hours, Benson laid out his recommendations for how the city should handle the landfill, which has affected Bristol residents mentally and physically.
The top three priorities he listed were to seal off the edges of the landfill as well as continue to monitor and remove excess gas and water from the site.
“It won’t be cheap,” Benson said. “It will take some effort, but getting out in front of it will minimize long-term costs.”
His recommendations were similar to what the city has already done to alleviate the landfill gas. He said using gas wells to pump out odorous gas is the city’s best option.
He also said the city should continue pumping out leachate, water trapped deep inside the landfill, because that water could be causing subsurface reactions that create the gas.
Toward the end of his presentation to the council, Benson said it could be until the end of next summer before residents experience relief.
He urged that a fix is possible, but it may take time.
“I can say with confidence that we’re able to resolve these problems,” Benson said. “They’re not always easy, but we can get them resolved.”
Some Bristol residents were disappointed with the potentially-long timeline until the smell that has plagued them for months.
“It’s frustrating to know that we have to endure this toxic smell for another two more years pretty much,” said Bristol, Tennessee resident Mike Dean.
Although Benson cited the need for better data collection methods at the landfill site, his recommendations were based on his work at other quarry landfills in the U.S., including ones in Bridgeton, Missouri and Hillside, Illinois.
“Monitor, measure, understand how it’s performing and adjust. It will work,” Benson said.
The landfill expert also classified the landfill as an elevated temperature landfill because the temperature below the surface is consistently above 131 degrees.
Benson urged against closing the landfill at this time. He said putting a cap, or a heavy layer on top of the current trash, would create pressure that could push the subsurface temperature even higher.
“You will regret that for the next 50 years if you do that,” Benson said. “Fill it with waste as fast as you can and then cap it. Stopping waste won’t cure the odor. It’s the waste at the bottom.”
He said filling the landfill to the brim with new trash would allow gases trapped below to rise into new trash. In conjunction with the gas wells, sealing off of edges, and leachate collection, he said it would allow the city to fix the current issues before eventually capping off and closing the landfill.
It was estimated that the issue may have emerged several years back.
“These issues don’t start overnight,” he said. “It will get managed. It won’t happen tomorrow, but it can get managed.”
Benson said the city’s current mitigation efforts put them in the right direction toward an eventual fix.
Bristol, Virginia Mayor Anthony Farnum said the city is prepared to put what they learned from Benson Tuesday night to use.
“I’m happy that we have been taking steps already to alleviate the issues,” Farnum said. “Now we have more steps to take. It’s been a long process, and unfortunately, it’s not going quickly enough.”
Some residents were concerned continuing with the city’s plans might not bring them relief as quickly as it is needed.
“I’m very concerned that if we go down this path, we’re not talking a year and a half,” said Bristol, Tennessee resident Becky Evenden. “We’re talking another three years when we realize this path doesn’t work.”
Farnum said the city’s immediate priority is to fix the odor, then work toward closing the landfill as quickly as possible.