County considers expanding Gable landfill
By Andrea Gaines
Despite years of controversy and unanswered safety questions, the trucks drove in and the trucks drove out, dumping their loads and earning the property owner potentially millions of dollars in dumping fees. And it’s all being done under the guise of a “personal recreational field” use.
The site, on Gable Farm Lane, is part of a large private farm in Hamilton that has accepted what is known as “excessive fill,” or, simply, “dirt.” Refuse from construction sites, demolition and road projects, and other activities.
The dirt stockpiles had started growing on Gable Farm in 2016, and had been the subject of many complaints, and worries in the neighborhood. The issue has been with the County attorney for over a year, with little to no communication with the neighboring community.
“What disturbs us most is that the County has not taken any steps to monitor groundwater and surface water on the landfill and neighboring properties,” said adjoining neighbor Joyce Harris. “The County needs to commit to monitoring over a period of several years. We have asked them to do this on numerous occasions. They have a duty to protect the public.”
Details and video of the landfill are at www.loudounrurallandfills.com.
Yards and yards of dirt and debris. And now it’s starting to slide
To date, the dumping has totaled up to as much as 34,000 truckloads and 500,000 cubic yards of refuse, by some estimates. It is a landfill of more than 18 acres, on a property that is zoned “Agricultural Rural.”
Dumping and grading at the site was non-stop, and a huge high flat field-like structure was formed. The waste was piled higher, more than 10 feet higher than allowed by the County. The debris included soil, liquid waste, cinderblock, broken bits of PVC pipe, plastics, rocks, gravel, and big chunks of asphalt.
The owner had all of the required permits for what is known as a Personal Recreational Field. But everything has its limits, of course, and, in this case, the owner was trucking in so much stuff that neighbors raised the alarm.
Permit violations in 2017 and 2018 lead the County to issue a Stop Work Order – but to date there has been no public remedy. Now neighbors are seeing a sliding failure in one area on the steep slopes of the landfill.
County Consultant says some fill should be in a liner-equipped landfill
Wood Environment and Infrastructure Solutions, Inc. was hired by the County to double check two reports to “determine if the imported fill material contains contaminants considered harmful to human health and the environment,” according to an analysis dated Oct. 21, 2020.
Wood reviewed 17 soil borings, conducted earlier on the 18 plus acre landfill, each approximately 20 feet deep. Most of the borings did not reach the bottom of the landfill, and groundwater was not collected from any of them. The boring soil samples had been analyzed for a range of contaminants but not for pesticides or herbicides.
Wood concluded, “Two of the soil samples contained TPH concentrations exceeding 50 ppm, and as such, these concentrations would characterize this material as Category C which would exclude them as unrestricted clean fill, and instead, require appropriate disposal of this soil at a permitted and approved landfill equipped with liners and a leachate collection system.”
History of the landfill
Gable’s Rural Economy Plan for a “Personal Recreational Field” was approved in 2015 – almost six years ago. According to the “Approved Plan Sheet,” the owner stipulated that the site would “Not be open to [the] public or used for any commercial purposes …”
There are no public records documenting the contents of the dumped waste, including remnants of what is, clearly, liquid waste.
Recently, the County has done one water quality test across the road at Scott Jenkins Park. The results of the test showed no contaminants. However, there has been no testing of water at the 18 plus acre dump site, nor at any of the neighbors’ properties. The normal protocol is to test a particular site over time (not just once), ensuring that hazardous conditions are not developing as water percolates through the site.
Can something like this, “fail?”
There are no County regulations specific to the siting, height, extent, volume or contents of “Personal Recreational Fields.”
A “dirt stockpile” having exactly the same physical characteristics would not be permissible on this site without a special zoning exception process.
The landfill is potentially harmful, and, as concerned neighbors are now thinking, possibly unstable, too.
Sliding failures are beginning to show in one of the landfill’s steep slopes, perhaps indicating that, due to the weight, height, and water content of the soil and debris, things may be beginning to slip.
No engineering studies were required to ensure the stability of this massive structure. Over time, the infiltration of rainwater into the landfill can increase both the weight of the fill and the water pressure, thus weakening parts of the fill. This could lead to failure of the face of the landfill.
County considers landfill expansion as a remedy
The Gable Farm personal recreational field has been on the County’s agenda for over five years now, and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality visited the site on Feb. 22, 2019.
In an answer to email questions posed by the Blue Ridge Leader in early March 2019, Richard Douchette, Land Protection and Revitalization Program Manager said they conducted “a visual inspection of the surface and the side slopes of the fill material,” but “did not take any samples of the landfill materials or the surrounding water bodies.” Also, they “would not certify that the landfill does not contain hazardous materials.”
The issue itself has even prompted recent state legislation related to Hazardous Waste Management Regulations controlling what can be dumped, and for what use. The Blue Ridge Leader reached out to Loudoun County’s Assistant County Attorney Wahaj Memon to check the current status of the Gable landfill and what action the County has taken to remediate the issue.
Glen Barbour, Public Affairs and Communications Officer, promptly responded to our inquiry, giving an update as to what had unfolded in 2020.
“The County has been working with the property owner to abate the notice of violation. The property owner has proposed to spread out the excess fill on their property (as opposed to removing it from their property) in order to come into compliance with the approved permit.
“However, prior to this abatement action, the property owner recently had a soil analysis done. Last month, this analysis was forwarded to the Virginia Department of Environment Quality (DEQ) for comment. Currently, the County is waiting for DEQ’s response, which may come within the next few weeks. DEQ’s response will provide insight into the County’s next steps toward achieving abatement.”
In a recent email to neighbors from the County addressing “abatement” responsibilities, the County offered the following: “… The primary goals of the abatement approach are: 1) to reduce the height of the fill dirt to the level that was depicted on a previously approved rural economy site plan; and 2) to prevent the negative impacts caused by numerous dump truck trips on the roads that would be necessary to remove all of the excess fill dirt from the property.
“A grading permit application will be submitted by the property owner that will propose to move the off-site fill dirt that is in excess of what was approved on the Rural Economy Site Plan (REST) to another area of the property.
“The area where the dirt will be moved is a recessed area of the property and will not be visible off-site.”
The County has not provided a plan for this possible abatement, and it is not clear how it would be feasible to move thousands of truckloads of ‘excess fill dirt’ to another area of the property without violating existing County regulations. That “other” area is presumably subject to the same County regulations that are violated by the existing landfill.
The County has not issued a public notice for any hearings about this abatement approach.