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NEWS- Burying asphalt: Supes weigh dumping proposals

Published 07/04/02 in issue #22 of The Hook.


Back in the days before pesky county ordinances, the way to get rid of trash was pretty simple: burn it or dump it in a ravine.

Contractors traditionally have disposed of construction debris by burying it, but the practice became illegal in Albemarle a couple of years ago when the county prohibited the burial of anything other than dirt and rock-- even "stumpage," i.e., tree stumps, was off limits.

Now, at the request of a major local developer, the County is considering again letting contractors bury such construction materials as brick, concrete, and asphalt. While brick and block aren't causing much fuss, asphalt has raised some eyebrows.

"The county engineer compared asphalt debris to peanut butter in terms of toxicity," sniffs Kathryn Russell, who collected 100 signatures on a petition opposing the change. Russell-- who fears that asphalt contaminated with substances such as antifreeze could make its way into groundwater-- presented the petition to the Board of Supervisors at their June 5 meeting.

The company requesting the change, C.W. Hurt Contractors, contends that the county's regulations are tougher than those of the state Department of Environmental Quality, which permits asphalt in landfills.

County staff agree and have recommended approval of a zoning text amendment.

Jeff Werner at the Piedmont Environmental Council thinks that's a bad idea.

"Let's not do a web search and base our land use decisions on that," says Werner. "This is a petrochemical product. It's not inert. We don't dump oil."

County senior planner Michael Barnes agrees that the information on asphalt is murky, but points out that nothing conclusively says it shouldn't be buried.

While the DEQ and the Environmental Protection Agency permit asphalt to be buried, the Army Corps of Engineering forbids it in wetlands.

"To be on the safe side," says Barnes, "we're keeping it out of streams."

(Another amendment request before the county does want to use construction materials, including asphalt, for stream bank stabilization.)

Mark Graham, the county's director of engineering and public works, is candid. "The big question is, can we guarantee it's safe? No."

Katurah Roell, the project developer who's handling the amendment request for C.W. Hurt Contractors, is blunt: "If blacktop is a detriment to our health and the environment, tear up all the streets."

Burial opponents point out that asphalt is a highly recyclable material, but Roell scoffs at that solution.

"Why bother to recycle if you can bury it cheaper?" he asks. "We're not going to haul it to BFI [in Fluvanna] to a warehouse where it's going to go into another county's landfill."

"We absolutely support recycling of asphalt," counters Graham. "That's absolutely the right way to do it."

But in truth, as he notes in a June 19 memo, a successful recycling program "will require either a mandate to recycle the material or a subsidy to make the recycling operation profitable."

Russell dislikes another aspect of the amendment, one that would allow dumpsites smaller than 10,000 square feet without a permit. Could mystery dumps sprout all over the county in unidentified locations?

"It's tragic to open the path to dumping without monitoring," says Russell. Specifically, she wonders who is going to be liable when someone tries to build a house or dig a well on an unregistered dumpsite-- especially if the land has not been properly compacted.

"It's going to be a problem down the road," says Russell, "when a house collapses."

Landfills over 10,000 square feet require a permit, and the County will keep a database of those sites. Barnes says that 10,000 square feet is a pretty small area, far less than the 10,000 cubic feet the contractors wanted.

For some opponents, the developer in question is cause for alarm.

"Anytime Dr. Hurt has something like that, I'm going to be leery," says Ralph Himelrick, who worries that his next-door neighbors could open a dumpsite that doesn't have to be buried for a year. "It doesn't feel right," he says.

Russell thinks the amendment goes way too far to accommodate-- even "subsidize"-- contractors like Hurt. And she alleges that county engineer Graham "is pretty obviously in the pocket of this guy."

Graham laughs at that charge. "Talk to Virginia Land about how many stop-work orders we've issued. I think they wish we'd go away."

Over at C.W. Hurt, Roell probably wouldn't disagree. "The county said they'd reinterpreted the ordinance that had let us dump dirt, rock, masonry, concrete, and asphalt for 20 or 30 years. They're doing this constantly."

The amendment was scheduled to go to the Board of Supervisors July 3 after The Hook's press time. Board chairperson Sally Thomas says there are still questions about the amendment, and "We don't want to create a situation where the county is pockmarked with old fill sites."

Even with county staff's recommendation and the requirement that dumpsites be covered with clean dirt, Russell is not mollified by the idea that anyone can have a dump in his backyard.

"If I wanted that, I'd live in Buckingham County," she says.


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