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2014-01-01 / Front Page

During fly ash debate, DEQ silent on charges

Shoosmith says problems now fixed
By Jim McConnell
STAFF WRITER


J. Fletcher Kelly, vice president and chief operating officer of the Shoosmith Bros. landfill, talks to residents of the Highlands during a community meeting in October. 
Jim McConnell/Chesterfield Observer J. Fletcher Kelly, vice president and chief operating officer of the Shoosmith Bros. landfill, talks to residents of the Highlands during a community meeting in October. Jim McConnell/Chesterfield Observer Who says ignorance is bliss?

Exactly two months before it hosted a public hearing in Chesterfield to discuss Shoosmith Bros.’ plan to build a large retaining wall out of fly ash, Virginia’s environmental regulatory agency cited the local landfill for five violations of state waste management laws.

On July 10, 2013, the state Department of Environmental Quality issued a Notice of Violation that listed the findings of its June 25 inspection of Shoosmith’s Lewis Road landfill facility.

Among the charges, DEQ alleged that Shoosmith improperly managed leachate that seeped out of a landfill cell and flowed into a nearby sediment basin, and failed to maintain adequate daily cover on exposed waste in another cell.

During a follow-up inspection in late August, DEQ noted that Shoosmith still had not achieved full compliance with the law.

But information about those violations wasn’t disseminated publicly – either prior to or during the agency’s Sept. 10 public hearing.

Approximately 150 residents wedged their way into a small meeting room in a county government building for the hearing, which was contentious nearly from its outset.

While the DEQ representative in charge of the hearing reminded attendees to comment only on the technical merits of Shoosmith’s proposal, many of the nearly two dozen speakers instead aired grievances about various aspects of the landfill’s local operations.

More than one resident of the Highlands, an upscale community that was built adjacent to the landfill, complained that wind frequently ferries both odor and trash from the facility into their neighborhood. Multiple speakers called for the landfill to be closed, not expanded, and were greeted with thunderous applause from the audience.

Still, it wasn’t publicly known at the time that DEQ and Shoosmith were in the process of negotiating the penalty for the landfill’s multiple violations. Shoosmith officials and DEQ reached an agreement in mid-December – what’s known as a consent order – specifying how the landfill would mitigate the violations.

The consent order won’t become final until after a 30-day public comment period.

Bill Hayden, a spokesman for DEQ, insisted that the state agency has been “very open about its activities concerning the landfill” and has “treated this case as we would any other.”

“DEQ works diligently to ensure public awareness and understanding of environmental concerns such as those at Shoosmith,” he said last week.

“When alleged environmental violations occur, they often result in negotiations over a consent order – and this is what happened in the Shoosmith case,” Hayden added. “DEQ is not able to discuss any specifics of negotiations, and this means we do not have information to share publicly.”

Hayden also defended DEQ’s failure to inform Chesterfield residents about Shoosmith’s violations prior to the public hearing.

“There are potentially hundreds of permit and regulatory violations each year, and DEQ simply is not able to notify the public about them,” he said.

DEQ does allow for public comments 30 days after the signing of a consent order, which is a negotiated enforcement action that outlines specific steps offending facilities must take to achieve compliance with state regulations.

J. Fletcher Kelly, Shoosmith’s vice president and chief operating officer, noted that the landfill has since corrected the problems highlighted in the Notice of Violation.

“Shoosmith Bros. Landfill places the highest priority on safe and environmentally sound practices. This has resulted in an outstanding record of compliance for many decades,” he said. “We work collaboratively with DEQ, and made immediate changes to address their concerns.”

Under terms of the consent order, Shoosmith would be required to pay a civil charge of $16,000, which would be deposited in the Virginia Environmental Emergency Response Fund.

A draft of the Shoosmith consent order is available on the DEQ website: deq.virginia.gov/Programs/Enforcement/PublicNotices.aspx.

DEQ will accept public comments on the consent order – either by email (frank.lupini@deq.virginia.gov), fax (804-527-5106) or mail (DEQ Piedmont regional office,

4949-A Cox Road, Glen Allen, VA, 23060) – until Jan. 18.

Hayden noted that DEQ is also negotiating with Shoosmith on another consent order dealing with an alleged violation of air regulations at the landfill.

Meanwhile, Shoosmith is still waiting for DEQ to rule on its application to modify its solid waste permit, which would allow the facility to use approximately 1 million cubic yards of fly ash in the construction of a mechanically stabilized earthen berm.

The public comment period on that application ended Sept. 25, but staff in DEQ’s Piedmont regional office continues to work on the agency’s response to correspondence received.

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