When Mindy Lyle moved into a new house on Tancreti Lane in Cameron Station in 2000, she noticed a strange smell in the air. She contacted Washington Gas for an inspection. But when the inspector arrived, he pointed toward the Virginia Paving Company's plant.
"Smoke detectors in the neighborhood kept going off," she said. "When the Fire Department came, the recorded levels of particulates in the air were eight times the amount of a housefire."
Residents of Cameron Station fear that Virginia Paving is ruining the air quality in their neighborhood. At a public hearing on Tuesday, several speakers expressed frustration with Virginia Paving. Joe Bennett, president of the Cameron Station Civic Association, asked council members why they weren't doing something about air quality problems in their west-end neighborhood.
"Why weren't you and the community provided with copies of an ambient air-quality study that staff had conducted in Cameron Station in the summer of 2004 to provide information regarding our concerns over air quality?" he asked. "The report shows that PM 10 levels — that's the level of harmful air pollutants — in Cameron Station is among the worst 10 percent nationwide."
Art Impastato, a member of Cameron Station Civic Association, also spoke to City Council members about the air quality in his neighborhood.
"The situation at Virginia Paving's Alexandria's plant has turned from being a nuisance issue of odors, which by the way still persist as of this week, and fire alarms going off for no apparent reason to one where I believe there is a clear and present danger to the men women and children living in the community and to the children at Tucker Elementary School," he told City Council at the public hearing. "I think what all of this boils down to is how serious the city is when it comes to the health of its citizens."
VIRGINIA PAVING COMPANY, formerly Newton Asphalt, has been in operation for 45 years on Courtney Avenue, east of South Van Dorn and south of the intersection with South Pickett Street. City Council issued Special Use Permit 398 to the company in 1960.
On Oct. 26, 2004, Assistant City Attorney Joanna Frizzell sent a letter to the plant manager at the Virginia Paving Company titled "Violations of State and City Codes at 5601 Courtney Avenue." The letter notified Virginia Paving that a 2004 inspection of the plant showed numerous violations of state and city codes as well as violations of the company's 1960 special use permit.
"The issues raised in that letter have been addressed or are being addressed," said City Attorney Ignacio Pessoa. "Since that letter was written, Virginia Paving has had several meetings with city staff to work toward compliance."
William Skrabak, division chief of the city's Office of Environmental Quality, says that Virginia Paving is working to address the air-quality problems documented in the Oct. 26, 2004 letter.
"They are in the process of air-quality modeling," Skrabak said. "We will be putting conditions on the special use permit to address the air-quality issues."
IN A JUNE 27 memorandum to City Council members, City Manager Jim Hartmann denied that the plant poses an environmental risk to west-end residents.
"In fact, Virginia Paving is in compliance with all applicable Virginia Department of Environmental Quality standards regarding air emissions," Hartmann wrote. "While there was a fine assessed at one point by the EPA, this fine was related to the lack of storm water management plan, and not to any emission from the plant. The city is investigating the compliance status of other site discharges."
City officials admit that Virginia Paving is in violation of the permit, which says that "no operation of this plant requiring exit or entrance of vehicles be permitted after hours of darkness or during inclement weather or on Sundays or holidays."
At a June 28 meeting, the City Council voted to allow city staff to use discretion in citing code violations against the company — hoping that city paving projects could be done at night to avoid traffic congestion.
In November, City Council will review Virginia Paving Company's special use permit again. At that time, the air quality studies will be reviewed to ensure that residents of Cameron Station and other nearby neighborhoods are not threatened by pollution.