Officials look to increase intake at Prince Edward County landfill

Published 10:47 pm Thursday, July 6, 2023

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If a request is approved, Prince Edward County would nearly double the amount of trash it’s allowed to take in at the landfill. Officials are calling the move simply a way to manage its busiest days, and those who live and work around the State Route 648 facility won’t even know the difference. Nearby residents, however, just see the potential for increased traffic, among other things. 

If there is anything to blame for the need to increase volume from 175 tons a day to 300, it’s the pandemic, officials say.

“When I arrived in the middle of COVID, we were noticing the volume of material we were picking up at that time,” Prince Edward County administrator Douglas Stanley said. “So, think about restaurants. Everybody is using disposable containers, and forks and plates. All those dining halls, the two colleges we serve —  they are all using disposable plates.”

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Even more, fewer people are heading to brick-and-mortar stores, and instead are depending on mail-order services like Amazon with all of its boxes and materials people eventually throw away.

That required the county to initially increase its pre-pandemic daily capacity of 100 tons. Otherwise, trucks would have to be turned away — leaving them stuffed with trash until the next day, or being forced to find dumps much further away, and at a significant additional cost.

“So, we went at that time and increased our tonnage limit from 100 to 150 tons, thinking ‘OK, this will give us a decent cushion for a while, and buy us some time,’” Stanley said. “Well, in the last year, boom. We were hitting the 175-ton revised limit on multiple occasions, and running into the same type of issues.”

Streamlining the request

Instead of going back to the Commonwealth asking for multiple small increases, Prince Edward County decided to streamline all of it, and simply ask for a volume limit that would reflect its busiest days.

The volume increase request has been in front of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality for the past month, with a public comment period ending last week. For the most part, the number of trucks traveling the roads to “convenience sites” as the county calls them won’t change, Stanley said. The average volume handled at the sites is between 150 and 175 tons per day.

Reaching the 300-ton limit? That would require what Stanley describes as a “perfect storm.”

“You had a town cleanup this spring,” the county administrator said. “You also had Longwood (University) and Hampden-Sydney (College) students that were moving out of dorms and apartments.”

That means more than just garbage bags of trash. It’s those days the county sees furniture, mattresses — material that adds up quickly.

“That’s what pushes us significantly over the 175,” Stanley said. “So, the 300 cushion, we feel, gives us the ability to handle what I’d say is kind of the ‘Black Friday’ traffic day of trash.”

Concern about Prince Edward County landfill

Yet, not everyone is convinced this increased volume is a good thing — especially those who live and work around the dump, like Steve Wall. He owns about 14 acres of land just outside the dump entrance.

Right now, he uses the property for storage and such from his business, but a lot of that is simply because he can’t use it for much of anything else. The odor from the dump is unbearable to many — enough to “prevent any humans from living there” — and the main road leading to the facility is practically a country road where two trucks could not pass each other in opposite directions very easily.

While typical compactor trucks many people see in their neighborhoods can hold up to 10 tons, according to assistant county administrator Sarah Elam Puckett, Wall doesn’t believe trucks carry anywhere near that. That means not just a few extra trucks traveling up and down his road, but significantly more.

“The county is good at putting lipstick on a pig,” he said. “They’ve been out and built a new sign at the entrance to the landfill, and landscaped around it. They have made an effort in the last month to really pick up some trash along the road. But that’s done’ just in the heat of this period, and it ain’t going to last the day.”

His neighbors who do live there have to get up in the morning and compete with trucks traveling the road already, Wall said. And then it happens again in the afternoon. Many can see the trash from the road, and many fear it will get even worse.

Local trash or not?

Still, Wall is convinced the county’s request is not about serving local needs, but instead about finding ways of bringing more trash — and money — from outside Prince Edward County, and the region.

“We have to make sure we’re not bringing in trash from other places,” Wall said. “Because it means we don’t need it for our trash. We don’t need trash.”

But, there are no current plans to bring in new major customers from outside the area, Stanley said. 

“We still serve Prince Edward County,” he said. “We still provide trash disposal for Buckingham County, which is a customer of ours. And we have private haulers for the colleges and some other private entities. But the reality is, we have not gone out and picked up other customers.”

Not that that couldn’t happen down the road, Stanley added. “But we are making these changes and requests to accommodate and keep up with the local demand of our partners — our partners being the Town of Farmville, our citizens in the county that go to the waste sites, and the two colleges.”