Virginia Paving Company's second attempt at a Community Information Open House to inform citizen of actions they have undertaken to improve operations in preparation for seeking an amendment to their 1960 Special Use Permit met with a far greater response. Whether any minds were changed remains questionable.
When several of Monday's night attendees were asked why they had not attended the initial June 24 information session their response was because there was no City representation. That was not true this time.
William Skrabak, division chief, Environmental Quality, Transportation & Environmental Services Administration, and Richard Josephson, deputy director, Planning & Zoning Department, represented the City.They joined personnel from Virginia Paving Company in answering questions posed by citizens during the two hour gathering at Samuel Tucker Elementary School on Ferdinand Day Drive in the city's West End.
"We are trying to get more environmental improvements. But the two main issues seem to be odor and night truck traffic to and from the plant," Skrabak said.
"We basically took their present operations and said how can we improve this. They produce between 600,000 and 900,000 tons of asphalt per year at the present time. However, their State permit allows them to go up to 1.5 million tons per year," Skrabak explained.
"Through this Special Use Permit (SUP) process we are trying to improve the overall operations of the plant," he said. The most vociferous opponents of those operations are the homeowners in Cameron Station who oppose amending the SUP due to what they perceive as an infringement on their quality of life by the plant.
"I've lived in Cameron Station for seven and a half years. And, for us it is not just the night operations we object to . For us this is a 24/7 situation," said Pat McCombie, secretary, Cameron Station Citizens Association.
"Very little of what Virginia Paving produces is used in
Alexandria. Most of it goes outside the City because there are not
that many large projects left in the City. It's primarily maintenance of existing roads and parking areas. Yet, we are paying the price," said Joseph Bennett, immediate past president of the association.
When asked what they thought of the company's attempts to improve their operations and inform the citizens of those actions, there was mixed reaction. "I think its pretty much what we expected. There are still a lot of unanswered questions. And we still can't get those answers," said Mindy Lyle, association president.
"We are probably a little better along than we were in May, but not by much. The environmental considerations are only one side of the situation," she said.
"Probably less than 20 percent of the asphalt produced at this plant is for use in Alexandria. The City's entire paving budget is only $1 million," Lyle said.
"We (the association) started looking into this in early 2001. It took us three years plus to get the City involved. And, the School Board still hasn't come to any meetings even though this school sits right in Virginia Paving's backyard. They (School Board) just don't seem to care at all if there are any health or safety hazards," she said.
"Virginia Paving has actually been operating in violation of their present SUP for years. But, the City has totally ignored that and is now willing to grant them an amendment," Lyle stated.
BASICALLY, THE CONTROVERSY revolves around two primary elements associated with Virginia Paving Company operations located at 5601 Courtney Avenue, between Eisenhower Avenue and Pickett Street. One is environmental, as to alleged air pollution and odor, while the other is tied to the plant's hours of operation as defined in the existing SUP.
During a meeting in May at Beatley Central Library West End residents and representatives of various civic associations urged the Planning & Zoning Department and Planning Commission to deny the application to amend the SUP. They based their request primarily on the following points and opinions:
Presently the plant is permitted to operate Monday through Saturday from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. It is prohibited from operating on Sundays or holidays. Under a new SUP those hours would be increased from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. Sunday through Friday and Saturdays from midnight to 7 p.m. Those new hours would be in effect only during paving season, April 1 through November 1.
Odor from the plant and noise from trucks operating from the plant at night have a detrimental impact on the quality of life in the area, particularly for the residents of Cameron
Emissions from the plant pose a health hazard to both residents and children attending Tucker Elementary School.
Virginia Paving has been in violation of the existing SUP for many years.
In order to answer those assertions, Virginia Paving has undertaken a number of improvements both in plant operations and physical appearance. It was to educate the public on those actions and to explain improved production processes in the industry that they conducted both the June 24 and August 7 information open house at the school.
During that initial information session Michael M. Cote, vice president mechanical, Virginia Paving, who also attended the Beatley Library session, emphasized, "The main thing we want to accomplish is to answer any community concerns as well as find out if other concerns exist that we don't know about."
To do that Virginia Paving, at both sessions, provided detailed information and company personnel to answer questions in four specific areas of concern: 1. The SUP process; 2. Environmental and health issues; 3. Asphalt creation and production coupled with improvements industrywide in that process; and 4. Neighborhood issues.
IN ORDER TO address the environmental air quality issues Virginia Paving, the City, and the Cameron Station Citizens Association have separately retained some of the same environmental scientists that have studied emissions at the Mirant Power Generating Station in north Old Town. Some of them were also available to answer methodology and results questions.
Their over all conclusion is that the two situations, Mirant and Virginia Paving, are not comparable. In the case of the latter they concluded the primary objections to Virginia Paving operations come down to "odor and nuisance" complaints. "Any emissions that are going to be harmful are going to be so to those within the plant not to the community," said Dr. Laura Green, one of the environmental scientists employed by Virginia Paving.
David Sullivan, who was hired by Cameron Station association but paid by Virginia Paving in a negotiated agreement between the two entities, and has participated in the Mirant evaluations, stated at the time of the library meeting, "We did a very thorough review of what went into the modeling and didn't find any mistakes."
Virginia Paving, formerly known as Newton Asphalt has been operating at their present location for 45 years. It was purchased by Lane Construction Corporation of Meriden, Conn., in 2001.
Cameron Station, a 164 acre Army base closed in 1995. Operations, consisting mostly of defense logistics and administrative functions, were moved to Fort Belvoir and other facilities. Cameron Station housing was constructed in the late 1990s.
The application for the amended SUP is expected to come before the Alexandria Planning Commission sometime this fall. Prior to that both side remain at odds.