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2018-06-13 / Featured / Front Page

Landfill operator resubmits quarry expansion plan

BY JIM McCONNELL SENIOR WRITER


After a fight with the county in 2015, Shoosmith Bros. withdrew an application to expand into a nearby quarry on Lewis Road. The company has resubmitted the application. 
JAMES HASKINS After a fight with the county in 2015, Shoosmith Bros. withdrew an application to expand into a nearby quarry on Lewis Road. The company has resubmitted the application. JAMES HASKINS Nearly three years after a contentious battle with nearby residents and the county, the Shoosmith Bros. landfill is again seeking permission to begin storing household waste in a rock quarry on its Lewis Road property.

Fletcher Kelly, vice president of operations for Shoosmith, confirmed last week that the company has submitted an application for consideration by the Board of Supervisors in compliance with county code.

The board is expected to conduct a public hearing on Shoosmith’s quarry plan at its July 25 meeting.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll get approved,” Kelly said following a meeting of the Shoosmith Community Outreach Group, which convenes quarterly to address the concerns of citizens who live around the landfill and update them on its recent activities. The concept of piling tons of trash in a 250-foot hole in the ground – and below the water table – met vehement opposition when Shoosmith’s application first came before the Board of Supervisors in October 2015.

One citizen said the quarry would become “a big bathtub full of pollution.” Another suggested that Chesterfield is now “the trash capital of Virginia.”

While the county’s engineering consultant recommended approval in 2015, it acknowledged there is no precedent for the successful implementation of Shoosmith’s specific quarry plan.

There’s only one quarry in the commonwealth currently being used as a landfill. The city of Bristol, which straddles the Virginia-Tennessee line, received state approval to conduct landfill operations in a quarry in the mid-1990s.

Suspecting it didn’t have support from at least three of the five supervisors, Shoosmith withdrew its application prior to the board’s November 2015 meeting.

The quarry has been a hot-button topic for nearby residents since 1997, when the Board of Supervisors granted Shoosmith a conditional-use permit to conduct landfill operations there once rock-harvesting activities have ceased. Shoosmith currently leases the quarry to Alabama-based Vulcan Materials.

While the volume of Shoosmith’s trash intake has been falling recently, Kelly said the company wants to have the proper state and county permits in hand by the time it needs to start using the quarry – which could prolong the landfill’s service for an additional 19 years.

Homeowners in The Highlands, an upscale neighborhood immediately adjacent to the landfill, oppose any change that will delay its closure. Many claimed they were assured when they bought their homes that the landfill was approaching its maximum capacity and would be capped within the next few years.

Chesterfield was mostly rural when the Shoosmith landfill, one of two in the county, first opened in 1975. Now there are hundreds of homes within a 5-mile radius and hard feelings have bubbled just below the surface for the better part of the past two decades.

Kelly and his five business partners, who bought the landfill in 2008, say the question no longer is whether they should be allowed to use the quarry; rather, it’s a matter of demonstrating they can do so without contaminating the adjacent Swift Creek and groundwater in the area.

Virginia’s environmental regulatory agency already has concluded they can. After reviewing the technical details of Shoosmith’s quarry plan, the state Department of Environmental Quality in February 2016 amended the company’s solid waste permit to include use of the quarry for landfill purposes.

The action angered county leaders, who had asked DEQ to wait until the Board of Supervisors voted on Shoosmith’s application.

In a March 2016 letter to DEQ, then- Board of Supervisors Chairman Steve Elswick and then-County Administrator Jay Stegmaier noted that conducting landfill operations in the quarry without permission from the county would constitute a zoning violation and trigger enforcement action.

Under Chapter 11, Article VIII of county code, the Board of Supervisors has authority to determine whether Shoosmith can use the quarry as a landfill cell without posing “substantial present or potential danger” to the health, safety and welfare of Chesterfield’s citizens and the environment.

As part of its 1997 conditional-use permit, Shoosmith committed to file an Article VIII application before it expanded into the quarry.

Following receipt of the county’s letter, however, the company seemed to change strategy. It filed suit against the county in Chesterfield Circuit Court, arguing that Article VIII doesn’t apply to the type of common household waste it plans to store in the quarry.

Shoosmith also claimed it was futile to resubmit an Article VIII application because the letter from Elswick and Stegmaier indicated the Board of Supervisors was predisposed to deny it.

Judge William Shelton dismissed Shoosmith’s lawsuit in November 2016, concluding that the company must submit its quarry plan to the Board of Supervisors before it seeks relief in the legal system. Shelton also found that Shoosmith had “failed to exhaust its administrative remedies.”

“By initiating this action, Shoosmith attempts to skip a step and appeal directly to the circuit court,” he wrote.

Kelly said last week that by filing another Article VIII application, Shoosmith is “doing what the judge told us to do.”

He acknowledged the new, 700-page application is “very similar, if not identical” to the one it submitted in 2015.

According to Deputy County Administrator Bill Dupler, the Board of Supervisors is legally required to act on Shoosmith’s application within 90 days of its submission date.

Bob Olsen, president of local environmental advocacy group Hands Across the Lake, said the same concerns about Shoosmith’s quarry plan that were raised by citizens nearly three years ago still exist today.

“There are just too many unanswered questions,” he said.

Ed Ring, a resident of The Highlands and one of Shoosmith’s most vocal critics, wonders whether any of his neighbors will even show up at the public hearing.

Ring was the lone citizen in attendance at last week’s Shoosmith Community Outreach Group meeting. During a subsequent interview, he noted that public uproar over the landfill has receded because Shoosmith is doing a better job of managing odor and keeping birds away from the site.

“The call log of complaints has dwindled to almost nothing,” he said. “People have moved on to other things.”

Ring plans to contact some of the people who opposed Shoosmith’s quarry plan in 2015 and notify them about the upcoming public hearing.

“The objections we voiced then are still valid,” he added. “Protecting groundwater and the health of people living around the landfill is paramount.” ¦

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