RICHMOND, Va. (WJHL) — Virginia’s attorney general has filed a lawsuit against the City of Bristol, Virginia over the city’s landfill over claims the facility violated numerous Virginia environmental laws, regulations and terms of its operating permits.
The suit details a litany of alleged violations and requests that Bristol face penalties of $32,500 “per day per violation” from the date each violation began “until it was or is abated” — a request that could cost the city millions of dollars if upheld and enforced.
It covers a time period of more than two years in the long-running issue that has drawn the Commonwealth’s attention and warnings before.
The suit, filed Friday by Attorney General Jason Miyares also seeks to limit operation of waste disposal until the city reaches “compliance with applicable laws, regulations, and permit conditions.” The alleged violations involve both air pollution from landfill emissions and solid waste.
The City already faces a federal lawsuit filed by neighboring Bristol, Tenn. over issues surrounding the landfill.
Miyares filed the suit on behalf of entities that oversee and regulate the landfill, including the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Waste Management Board, and Air Pollution Control Board.
The lawsuit points to a December 2020 on-site compliance evaluation as the trigger for what has become a major issue with the landfill. That visit came after what the suit describes as “multiple odor complaints from local citizens in Bristol, Virginia and Bristol, Tennessee.”
The suit lists five separate “notices of violation” (NOV) DEQ issues for violations of the landfill’s air pollution control permits. The first came Feb. 22, 2021 after a Feb. 1 compliance review by DEQ and the last came May 3, 2022. Each alleged violations of multiple permit conditions.
The complaint’s other major section deals with the landfill’s solid waste permits, Virginia’s Waste Management Act and overall waste regulations.
It references additional warning letters and notices of violations related to landfill material leaching into water, with failure or issues with pumps and other equipment designed to get such water returned to the sanitary sewer system.
The solid waste reprimands and NOVs began in May 2021, after a mid-April inspection that found a “gradient control pump” for a landfill section wasn’t functioning properly. A warning letter followed citing violations of Virginia’s waste regulations.
A revisit in November 2021 revealed additional pumps not functioning properly and found “the misfunctioning gradient control pump had not been replaced.” That drew another NOV.
Then, the suit says, the City of Bristol reported an overflow of leachate that on March 1, 2022 resulted in runoff into a stormwater outfall that is only permitted to discharge stormwater. DEQ conducted a compliance evaluation the next day and found further “leachate seeps” that violated regulations, as well as uncovered solid waste in several areas of the landfill.
That March 2 visit also revealed that in monthly self-inspection records from March 1, 2021 through March 1, 2022 landfill staff had neglected to report on “a number of aspects of facility operations,” which the suit said constituted another violation.
In both the air pollution and solid waste sections, the AG’s office concluded with allegations of multiple specific permit violations — 15 conditions under three separate air permits, and seven conditions under solid waste permits for two separate landfill units.
“These violations continue and the City has failed to return to compliance with the applicable solid waste permits, laws and regulations,” the suit states at the end of each section.
Even for just one day of violation on each alleged permit condition, the full allowable penalty would cost Bristol at least $715,000.
In addition to monetary judgment and an injunction preventing further waste disposal (something that hasn’t occurred since September 2022), the suit asks that the city be ordered to come into compliance with applicable laws, regulations and permit conditions for the landfill. It also requests that the Richmond Circuit Court, where the suit is filed, retain jurisdiction of the landfill issue until Bristol shows it can comply with those laws and regulations and doesn’t have any unpaid penalties.
In a response, the city said it “welcomes the opportunity to accomplish its landfill remediation objectives” and “insisted that a Virginia court case is a necessary and important procedural step.”
“This lawsuit provides an opportunity for the parties to reach an agreement on a consent decree that will resolve outstanding issues with the Commonwealth’s regulators and place Bristol’s landfill remediation efforts and timeline into a court order,” the city said.
The City of Bristol welcomes the opportunity to accomplish its landfill remediation objectives in cooperation with the Virginia Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and Department of Environmental Quality, and the City of Bristol has insisted that a Virginia court case is a necessary and important procedural step. It will provide the opportunity for public notice that we hope will give the public confidence in our remediation work at the landfill.
Long before today’s filing, Bristol VA began an unprecedented construction effort on the rock quarry landfill to remediate odors, including:
—Construction of a sidewall odor mitigation system that will run the entirety of the rock quarry landfill;
—Upgrades of the wells and pumps within the landfill;
—Implementation of additional cover over the waste;
—Intensive mapping and measurement of the landfill;
—And the ultimate installation of a cover.
This lawsuit provides an opportunity for the parties to reach an agreement on a consent decree that will resolve outstanding issues with the Commonwealth’s regulators and place Bristol’s landfill remediation efforts and timeline into a court order.
The landfills owned by Bristol VA are longstanding and for years accepted waste from Bristol VA, Bristol TN, and the surrounding communities. Bristol VA greatly appreciates the amount of time and effort Virginia OAG & DEQ have put into helping us identify necessary remediation efforts and achievable timelines that will best serve the citizens of our community. We are fully committed to addressing and resolving challenges at the Bristol quarry landfill in an environmentally sound manner.City of Bristol, Virginia