Is Virginia Paving Company’s asphalt plant to the West End what Mirant’s Potomac River Generating Station is to Old Town? Not by a long shot according to a panel of environmental experts.
However, when the question revolves around noise, nuisance and proximity to an ever expanding residential urbanization throughout the area, the answer is far less specific. But, then those factors are beyond the purview of empirical evidence collection.
Both responses summarize the outcome of Monday night’s public meeting at Beatley Central Library with regard to Virginia Paving Company’s application for an amended Special Use Permit (SUP) to allow “certain nighttime operations” and permit them to increase the height of their smoke stacks. After two and half hours of presentations and questions the two sides remained sharply divided.
Those two sides are comprised of individual West End residents allied with representatives of various civic associations on the one and Virginia Paving Company representatives on the other. Caught in the crossfire were various City department officials, City Council and Mayor, the City Attorney’s Office and, to some extent, the five environmental scientists who conducted various studies for all factions.
“Our SUP proffers have not worked as they should have. We are now transitioning from a complaint driven system to one where every SUP will be reviewed for compliance annually,” said City Manager James K. Hartmann in opening the session held under the aegis of the Alexandria Department of Planning & Zoning.
With that he turned the podium over to Assistant City Attorney Christopher P. Spera. “I seem to have fallen into the role of coordinating all the various parties to this dispute,” he said. “There has been a large amount of work done by various elements of City government in an attempt to be fair to everyone.”
Basically, the controversy revolves around two primary elements associated with the operations of Virginia Paving Company — one is environmental as to alleged air pollution while the other is tied to the plants hours of operation as defined in their existing SUP issued in 1960.
Currently, according to the amending application, the plant, located at 5601 Courtney Ave., is permitted to operate Monday through Saturday from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m. It is prohibited from operating on Sundays and holidays.
Under the new application the hours of operation would be increased from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. Sunday through Friday. Saturday operations would be conducted 12 a.m. to 7 p.m. Virginia Paving, in their application, stated:
“The Proposed Additional Hours requested in this SUP Application would result in the plant operating according to the following schedule, only during the paving season (April 1 through Nov.1), and within that period, only when undertaking State and Local Government projects (i.e.VDOT, City of Alexandria, etc.) Upon request by those government bodies, operations might also occasionally include extended weekend hours during the paving season in consideration of regional traffic impacts.”
“There are some real needs for night operations here. We have tried to balance the interests of the community with those of the corporate citizen to arrive at an equitable solution,” Spera explained prior to the meeting.
VIRGINIA PAVING COMPANY, formerly known as Newton Asphalt has been operating at its present location for 45 years. It was purchased by The Lane Construction Corporation of Meriden, Connecticut, in 2001. The Cameron Station housing development came about in the 1990’s. Prior to that the land was a military base.
“I’m here tonight as an engineer, father and homeowner,” said Michael M. Cole, vice president mechanical, Lane Construction Corporation.
“We did not purposely violate our permit. If night work is not allowed there will be increased traffic congestion and additional hardships. All our night work is performed to satisfy public works commitments,” Cole told the overflow crowd.
Sixty percent of Virginia Paving’s operations are devoted to public projects. “EPA and DEQ have evaluated our operations and found them to be within acceptable limits. We are in full compliance with all applicable emission standards. We are not a power plant,” Cole said. Those EPA/DEQ conclusions were corroborated in a memorandum dated June 27, 2005 from Hartmann to the Mayor and Council.
It was also substantiated by Dr. Laura Greene, one of the environmental scientists on the panel, who had been employed by Virginia Paving. “Any emissions that are going to be harmful are going to be harmful to those within the plant not to the community. I hope you will look at the scientific facts,” she said.
Maureen Barrett of AERO, who has been involved with the modeling at the Alexandria Mirant plant said, “I used the same modeling methods here that I used at the Mirant Plant. Virginia Paving does not contribute significantly to pollution. Their procedures do not violate Ambient Air Quality Standards.”
David Sullivan who was hired by the Cameron Station Civic Association but paid by Virginia Paving in an agreement negotiated by Joseph Bennett, vice president, Cameron Station Civic Association, said, “We did a very thorough review of what went into the modeling and didn’t find any mistakes.”
Sullivan maintained, “If this SUP is implemented it will reduce pollutants at ground level. However, the issue both sides need to work on is the odor complaints. The monitors need to be kept in place for a long time.”
Virginia Paving has agreed to have monitors placed in Boothe Park and to “use low-odorous anti-strip additives or such other approved approach to reduce odors emanating from the property.” This will be complemented by new landscaping around the plant to block its view from the park.
Sullivan also recommended that meteorological monitoring be done at Samuel Tucker School. “It all comes down to health versus nuisance,” Sullivan said.
WHEN IT CAME TIME for speakers from the various community groups all but one supported a denial of the SUP application. “Our main concern is the vague illusory language and the ineffective noise abatement conditions,” said Zina Raye, Summers Grove Homeowners Association.
“We would recommend denial of the application. But, we could agree if certain conditions were met,” she said.
Mindy Lyle, president, Cameron Station Civic Association, noted that she was speaking for not only her association but also the Cameron Station Community Association and Brookville-Seminary Valley Civic Association.
“The City has not enforced the current SUP. The odor controls are not working and there are no hazardous chemicals listed in the SUP,” she said.
Prior to the meeting Lyle pointed out that “asphalt manufacturing is an unregulated industry. They actually work about nine months a year.”