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City of Fairfax Dumping Criticized

In December 2003, Loudoun County issued a notice of violation, but City of Fairfax denies wrongdoing.

For the past 15 years, the City of Fairfax has been dumping public works waste on its property adjacent to the Beaverdam Reservoir on what County Attorney Jack Roberts called "a free pass."

Now, that free pass has expired.

"Take no prisoners. Do what you have to do," Supervisor Jim Clem (R-Leesburg) instructed county staff at a Dec. 15 land use committee meeting.

Fairfax City owns a 109.55-acre tract at the end of Reservoir Road, next to the Beaverdam Reservoir. The city built the dam in 1972. The resulting reservoir is the main source of the City of Fairfax drinking water, while Loudoun County Sanitation Authority purchases about one-half of its water supply from the city.

The dirt excavated for the dam was taken from the current site of the city's landfill. In 1989, the county issued a grading permit, allowing the City of Fairfax to fill in the "borrow pit" with waste from its public works projects, as long as the material consisted only of asphalt, concrete and soil.

Since then, the county has received complaints that dumping beyond the 11 acres permitted has taken place. In a July 8, 1991 letter to the City of Fairfax acting city manager, then Loudoun County administrator Philip A. Bolen reported that dumping close to the reservoir was occurring.

"The consequences of this activity may result in long-term environmental damage as well as unknown legal liabilities as well," Bolen wrote.

BY 1998, the situation had not improved. In a July 27 memo to the Board of Supervisors, county administrator Kirby Bowers noted that aluminum siding, PVC pipe, pallets, plastic bags and more had been found on the dump site.

On Sept. 13, 2003, the Department of Building and Development conducted an on-site inspection and found that debris beyond the original grading permit — which, as stated, was only to fill in the hole left by excavating dirt for the dam — was being dumped and included materials not approved in the permit.

After talks with county staff, the City of Fairfax agreed to stop dumping by Thanksgiving 2003. In December, however, activity at the landfill continued. Loudoun County issued a notice of violation, and by the end of the year, dumping ceased.

City of Fairfax manager Bob Sisson expressed his surprise at the county's decision.

"We were told we could have a permit years ago and we could use the land until it was back to the level that had been dug out," Sisson said. "We did that, in good faith, for the next 11 to 12 years with them never having an issue. And then all of a sudden, late last year, we were told 'You can't do that any longer.'"

Sisson also disputes that the City of Fairfax has ever dumped inappropriate material on the site. The PVC pipes and more that Bowers reported in 1998 were dumped by someone else, he said.

"Along country roads, people throw out mattresses and all order of things," Sisson said. "That was never an action of the City of Fairfax."

Sisson said the city often cleans up after others illegally dump materials on the site. And according to an engineering report commissioned by the city, the landfill still has several years' capacity left open, Sisson said.

But according to Melinda Artman, county zoning administrator, that's not true.

"They have far exceeded what they took away from the site," Artman said. "What they're doing was never approved."

Artman contends that the fact that the City of Fairfax never appealed the notice of violation is a tacit admission that there was, in fact, a violation.

SINCE CEASING dumping at the end of 2003, the City of Fairfax has hauled its public works waste to commercial landfills at a cost of $100,000 to $200,000 a year, Sisson said.

Permitting the city to resume dumping has no benefits for the county, said Monica Gorman, environmental compliance specialist with the Office of Solid Waste Management.

"When you ask me what's in it for Loudoun County, I can think of nothing," she said.

Sisson was not on hand to state the city's position at the Dec. 15 land use meeting due to a miscommunication, so the issue has been tabled for the time being. The City of Fairfax is in the preliminary process of applying for a special-exception permit for the stockpiling of the dirt and rock at the site. This would not allow the city to use the site for public-works waste, which includes asphalt and concrete.