BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL) – A group of protestors left Tuesday night’s Bristol, Virginia City Council meeting frustrated after city leaders announced they would not be declaring a local emergency for the harsh smells coming from the city landfill.
A protest attended by more than 20 people took place in the hours before the meeting. They filled the council chambers only to hear City Manager Randall Eads announce he would not declare an emergency.
Signs at the protest asked for assistance and federal funding. Others requested a shutdown of the landfill using the commonly-seen “DUMP THE DUMP” phrase.
Protest organizer Joel Kellogg said he hoped the protest would lead to action by the council.
“We’re hoping to hear that our voices are finally being heard and they’re going to get us some help, some funding,” Kellogg said.
Eads said the Virginia Department of Emergency Management recommended no emergency, echoing an EPA finding that the smell caused no immediate health effects.
In October, the department said it issued three notices of violation to the city in relation to the landfill. They also said the city’s gas wells should help with the odor.
“It does not do one thing other than just say we’ve declared an emergency and it’s alerted Richmond that we have an emergency in Bristol,” Eads said.
That statement drew anger from the audience. Michael Dean, a member of the audience shouted out, “What about mental health?”
Dean said the smell has deteriorated his and many others’ mental health over the last few months.
“It’s my worst nightmare,” Dean said. “Every morning, every day it’s the same thing. The same time, the smell comes.”
Protestors believed an emergency declaration could get the ball rolling on some form of aid being delivered down the road.
“We need air purifiers at the very least,” Kellogg said. “We need an emergency evacuation location for the heavily affected nights.”
Residents said that aid and a shutdown is necessary because the stench has changed the way they live their lives.
“My daughter – she has a new swingset. She hasn’t really been able to play on it since this all happened,” protestor Ashley Barnett said.
Eads also provided an update on the installation of several gas wells in the landfill. Hoping they can alleviate some of the stench, Eads said crews from SCS Engineers have been connecting the wells over the last week.
He urged the audience to be patient. Eads said he hoped a solution could be found by Christmas, but made no guarantees.
“I have never made one promise to anyone otherwise that this is going to correct the issue,” Eads said. “I do not know if what we’re doing now is going to correct the issue.”
Eads announced the city would soon be looking for a proposal for a third contractor to help the city learn if their current strategy is working to address the smell and high levels of benzene found in the landfill.
Landfill discussion was up first on the agenda. The room quickly emptied following Eads’ announcement.
Bristol, Tennessee city government announced they would be hiring a toxicologist and providing aid to eligible residents in the form of HVAC upgrades to help with the stench. Kellogg said he would have liked to see something similar from Bristol, Virginia’s city government.