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Votes

A Green Ending to a Landfill?

EnviroSolutions proposes to turn Lorton Landfill into park after closing in 2018.

Situated on 250 acres on Furnace Road, the Lorton Landfill brings in 3,000 tons of construction and demolition debris daily. Some residents believe that it is an eyesore and reminder of how Lorton use to be depicted: the dumping ground for unsightly but necessary evils from around the county.

However, if the Fairfax County Planning Commission approves a proposal to turn the landfill into a park in November, the 25-year-old operation will be yet another chunk of preserved open space in what is poised to become a nature-lovers paradise in the southern part of Fairfax County.

"There are so many positives to the community in this plan, it's not difficult to ask people to accept what we want to do," said Conrad Mehan, a spokesman for EnviroSolutions, the company which took over control of the landfill a few years ago.

Currently, the landfill is zoned to reach a height of 290 feet, at which point it will be capped and the top left to look like a level plateau, Mehan said. Part of the landfill is already closed, covered with long grass and trees that have sprouted up along the eastern side of the triangular 250-acre site.

If the proposal is passed, Mehan said, the tallest part of the landfill will resemble a mountain peak, reaching 412 feet, providing views of Bellmont Bay, the Potomac River, Woodbridge and, on clear days, Indian Point in Maryland.

The height increase is a tradeoff for having a definite closing date for the landfill, Mehan said, which could otherwise be mined to increase capacity and theoretically operate forever.

"The crux of what we're proposing to do is to make the landfill go away by screening it with a park," Mehan said, driving around the far side of the landfill, closest to southbound Interstate 95.

Right now, 150 acres of the 250-acre site are used as a landfill, the rest is left as a buffer zone to protect the environment and possibly prevent any contamination that may get into the ground water, Mehan said.

Under the proposal, the landfill would close to new debris in 2018, and within the following 10 years, the debris would be covered with layers of protective fibers and dirt. Trees and shrubs would be planted in 40-foot-wide trenches up the slope, providing tree cover for the residents who live at the bottom of the landfill.

"If approved, we hope to start the forest screening on the north and east slopes and maybe the southwest slope next spring," Mehan said.

THE TREES THAT would be planted have been selected because of their growth rate and will be either deciduous or evergreen trees, so the slopes would be covered year-round, he said.

A natural material trail would be installed around the site, winding up from Furnace road to the peak. Along the way will be picnic areas, an 11-task exercise station, a natural amphitheater with seating and other recreational options.

One stormwater pond, located at the northeast portion of the already wooded area, would be turned into a bird sanctuary, to the delight of environmentalists concerned about vanishing habitat and native plant and bird species, Mehan said.

"There will be a 1-mile trail that will connect with the Cross-County Trail and eventually to the equestrian site," he said, referring to plans by Fairfax 4 Horses to convert the former dairy farm at the Lorton Prison to an equestrian facility.

For Mehan, the tradeoff for closing the landfill early is another opportunity to preserve open space in the Lorton area and to provide trails for residents of the community at the bottom of the slope, who have no trails in their neighborhood.

As president of the South County Federation in addition to being a resident of Lorton Station, Susan Fremit said she's in a tough situation about the proposal.

"The Federation doesn't have a position right now. Those who don't want it don't like the additional height and the thought of vehicles coming to and from the site until 2016 or 2018," she said.

On the other hand, those who approve of the site see it as an extension of the work underway by the Lorton Arts Foundation, which would be contributing a sculpture park to the open space at the top of the slope.

"As we move up the height, they'll have to put in the trees we're asking for at that level," Fremit said. "We need to see the trees grow. We need to see an end to that landfill."

In June, the Fairfax County Park Authority voted to approve taking over the land once the landfill is closed and the renovations are completed, said Judy Pederson, a spokesperson for the Park Authority.

"The applicant would deed the 250 acres to the Park Authority to use as a public park," she said. "There are still some questions over whether we'd use any portion of it before the landfill is 100 percent closed."

Longtime resident of Lorton and at-large member of the Planning Commission, Laurie Frost Wilson said she'd like to see the landfill closed.

"I think it's a great opportunity and a great idea," she said.

One objection, however, is the additional height to the landfill that is part of the proposal.

Residents in that part of the county have been fighting landfills for decades, she said, and allowing an increase in height is contradictory to what the Planning Commission has been doing for the past several years.

"If the community does not support the application, it means the landfill will stay open and continue to run for another five to 10 years under the status quo," Frost Wilson said. "What they'd get in exchange for the additional height is a set closure date for the landfill. It's a bit of a doubled-edge sword."

Supervisor Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) said he's pleased with the way Mehan and EnviroSolutions have gone to the community for input and ideas about the park proposal, which he believes is likely to give the proposal support at the Planning Commission before going to the Board of Supervisors for a final approval.

"The community feels comfortable with the application," Hyland said. "I think the exchange of height for park space is one that benefits both parties."