Letter to the Editor: Landfill would be too close to marker

Published 12:57 am Friday, June 30, 2023

On April 29, the Frederick Douglass Foundation Virginia Chapter, along with the Health Care Equality Network and members of Governor Youngkin’s administration, had the opportunity to celebrate the unveiling of the historical marker honoring the Pine Grove Elementary School in Cumberland.

This historic event is one of many honors the school has rightfully merited, including a place on the Virginia Landmark Register and the National Register of Historic Places, but is one of the first Black American landmarks to receive the honor within the local Rural Historic District.

Built in 1917, the school is a historical landmark treasured by the surrounding community and across the country. Pine Grove Elementary was one of the thousands of Rosenwald Schools, that was constructed in the South to educate Black children during the Jim Crow period. Unfortunately, this revered site and community are being threatened by the pending approval of a mega-landfill right down the road.

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The proposed Green Ridge Recycling and Disposal Facility’s mega-landfill sits right next to the historic school; and if approved, would only tarnish its legacy but would indicate the complete lack of consideration for the community living there.

This mega-landfill is set to operate 24 hours a day, six days a week – adding 500 tractor-trailers to local roads daily. This extensive increase in greenhouse gas emissions will jeopardize the air quality within the community and add to the hazards being released into the air by landfill toxins. The destructive effects brought on by this landfill allow for a decrease in residential value and prevent new businesses from coming to the area. This mega-landfill will endanger the health of Cumberland County’s 10,000 residents, disrupt the local economy, reduce home values and create an opportunity for the dangerous cycle of environmental racism.

Unfortunately, this proposal is not unique. The proposed Green Ridge mega-landfill is only the latest assailant in a centuries-long battle against environmental racism.

At a rate of 54 percent higher than the overall population, Black Americans face the largest impact of health burdens due to environmental hazards. According to a study conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), people of color are 28 percent more likely to experience health burdens caused by environmental hazards – with Black communities experiencing the worst of it.

Not only would the approval of Green Ridge be an insult to the history that took place there but it would violate the Virginia Environmental Justice Act of 2020. The Pine Grove Elementary School should be protected and honored as the important landmark it is – rejecting the mega-landfill is the only way to ensure that happens. The preservation of Black history and the health of Virginians is at risk, we look forward to working with our state leaders to protect this sacred and honored site and community. 

Rev. Robert Gurley
Virginia Chapter
Frederick Douglass Foundation