Opinion — Cumberland County does not need the Green Ridge Mega-Landfill

Published 2:40 pm Wednesday, August 3, 2022

Robert “J.R.” Gurley

group of concerned citizens of the Commonwealth, residents of Cumberland County, and stakeholders in the historically Black Pine Grove community take issue with mischaracterizations and assertions made by Green Ridge Recycling and Disposal Facility representatives in the article penned by Rachel Austin, published in the Farmville Herald in June.

Our coalition, including AMMD Pine Grove Project and Frederick Douglass Foundation Virginia Chapter, believes that the last thing Cumberland County needs is a new mega-landfill in the backyard. Unfortunately, that is exactly what is being considered right now as part of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s permitting process (DEQ) for a proposed mega-landfill by Green Ridge Recycling and Disposal Facility.

Despite Green Ridge’s recent attempts to reassure the community about its unnecessary polluting project, approval of this mega-landfill will be a slap to us living in Cumberland County for a host of reasons. The facts simply don’t support the assertions made by Green Ridge in the article. 

Here are the facts: Cumberland County is one of the most rural and underdeveloped areas in Virginia, with 30% of our roughly 10,000 residents being Black and historically marginalized. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, our county also features both poverty rates and percentage of uninsured persons that are worse than the national average – most of which apply disproportionately to our communities of color.

Now consider the possibility of a mega-landfill being developed in the heart of the underserved and historic Pine Grove community, and we have ourselves a potential recipe for disaster. To start, a landfill as massive as Green Ridge will bring excessive truck traffic that will not only clog the small local roads that we rely on, but it will lead to road deterioration and air pollution from their exhausts. As of now, Green Ridge plans to only have one “private mile-long access road that will keep any backup of trucks out of the main road.” One designated road to control truck traffic is not nearly enough for a 1,200-acre facility. As has always been the case, these disturbances will fall onto the backs of nearby residents who are ignored far too often in the name of corporate revenue.

Truck traffic will surely not be the only source of pollution from this mega-landfill. According to the EPA, solid waste landfills such as Green Ridge are the third-largest source of human-related methane emissions in our country, a greenhouse gas that can lead to nausea, asthma and even improper lung development in children. While Green Ridge mentions that it will not accept “elements that cause landfills to give off a foul odor,” it fails to address that methane and other toxic emissions can be odorless killers for those who breathe it in. For those of us who lack sufficient access to healthcare and health insurance, air pollution can become a deadly public health issue. Needless to say, Green Ridge’s public assurances about its physical impacts are not convincing.

The proposed mega-landfill also upsets the heart and soul of our community. The Pine Grove School, one of the “Tuskegee Rosenwald Schools” that provided education for Black children during the Jim Crow Era, is a proud symbol of our local history and resilience through generations. Green Ridge’s promise to “not negatively affect the historic landmark” is simply invalid. Its mere proposal to develop an unwanted, polluting mega-landfill in such close proximity to the Pine Grove School, which is a national historic landmark, is an insult and disrupts the historical integrity of the freedmen-built community.  

Lastly, and certainly not least, Green Ridge shamelessly boasts that it is “practicing good environmental justice in the area.” A disruptive mega-landfill project that is detrimental to the community’s health cannot be “environmentally just” and is in direct contravention to established environmental justice laws and practices. 

Furthermore, the landfill does not provide any long-term value to our county and the Commonwealth as a whole. The need just does not exist: Virginia currently has 44 municipal solid waste landfills, seven of which are already considered “mega-landfills.” In fact, our neighboring Amelia County has a mega-landfill of its own, just a 30-minute drive away from the proposed Green Ridge site. Does that sound like Green Ridge would be a necessary addition to you?

To top it off, Green Ridge is a subsidiary of a foreign Canadian company, GFL Environmental, looking to profit by upsetting both the physical and cultural well-being of our community. 

Put this all together: do we really need another mega-landfill operated by a foreign company that will bring negative health, environmental, and cultural outcomes to Cumberland County? To us, the answer is a resounding no.

Robert “J.R.” Gurley is president of the Virginia chapter of the Frederick Douglass Foundation. He can be reached at fdfvirginia@gmail.com.