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Regional Landfill stores garbage safely and produces energy

By WILLIAM PAINE

william.paine@southwesttimes.com

Civilizations have always produced garbage. Archeologists dig into long abandoned garbage pits, as a matter of course, in an attempt to learn about ancient civilizations. For most of history, getting rid of refuse was a simple matter of finding a hole and tossing the trash inside.

As populations grew, the disposal of trash became more problematic. In 1965 the Solid Waste Disposal Act was passed to “improve waste disposal and technology.” Eventually state health departments began issuing stipulations that regulated the disposal of garbage.

Back in the seventies the health department issued a small four-page booklet listing refuse regulations, but as rules became more stringent officials in Dublin, Radford and Pulaski County realized the dumps they were using to dispose of waste were not adequate.

In response to this in 1986 the city of Radford, the town of Dublin and Pulaski County, which had been using their own smaller trash dumps, formed the New River Resource Authority. Soon after, Giles County and the Montgomery Regional Solid Waste Authority, representing Blacksburg, Christiansburg and Virginia Tech, joined the New River Resource Authority.

The authority started a debris landfill on Ingles Mountain, near exit 105 on Interstate 81. This landfill at Ingles Mountain was an improvement from trash dumps used in the past but did not have enough capacity to serve as a regional landfill. In the 90s, the authority bought the current site of the New River Resource Authority Waste Management Facility on the south face of Cloyd’s Mountain. Permits were obtained and the current facility opened for business on Memorial Day 1997. By the year 2000, the landfill at Ingle’s Mountain was permanently closed.

Since its opening, the landfill at Cloyd’s Mountain has accumulated 400 million tons of garbage. On average, more than 100 customers come in daily to get rid of their refuse at the landfill, dumping upward of 1,200 tons of garbage.

The New River Resource Authority is run by of a board of directors with representatives from Radford, Dublin, Pulaski County, Giles County, and the Montgomery Regional Solid Waste Authority.

Joe Levine was hired as the new Executive Director of the New River Regional Authority Waste Management Facility in 2003 and still works in this capacity today. A big part of Levine’s job involves following a dizzying array of regulations.

“We have to do permitting to assure that our emissions meet criteria,” said Levine. “Tied in with that is our landfill gas. So, we monitor landfill gas. We have to make sure our landfills aren’t leaking, so we have to test groundwater. We also have to test stormwater. It goes into our ponds so we have to test that and make sure it’s not going off-site.”

Levine describes the landfill as a sort of enormous bathtub.

“We have a subtitle D landfill which is a design approved by the federal government,” said Levine.

Constructing this type of landfill involves placing a two-foot thick clay lining inside a massive concave indention dug into the earth. After this is accomplished, a 60 millimeter layer of high density polyethylene plastic is placed over the clay barrier. Garbage is then piled into this earthen indention while huge machines with enormous spiked wheels, roll over the refuse to compact it. When full, the garbage is covered with another layer of plastic, followed by a thick layer of soil. From there, the garbage’s left to decompose.

“Basically you put all your trash back into a huge trash bag,” said Levine.

Each acre of this “huge trash bag” cost $440,000 to construct.

Currently, 50 acres of trash lay underneath the ground at Cloyd’s Mountain and as these heaps of garbage decompose, they produce gas. Fifty percent of the gas produced by this rotting trash consists of methane, which is seen to have a negative effect on the environment.

Although it wasn’t required, board members of the New River Regional Authority decided to install a gas collection system at the landfill.

“It was an environmental decision that our board made to do what is right to stop the gas from going into the atmosphere,” said Levine.

This decision involved purchasing a $650,000 flair station to collect the gas and put it through the destruction process. The gas is collected from a pipe that is sunk deep into the garbage pit. Gas is collected from these specialized pipes and then collected into gas wells.

At the same time, it was decided to apply for a program offered by the Climate Action Reserve, which paid credits to the landfill for destroying the methane gas. Under California law, industries that produced massive amounts of methane were fined for allowing the gas to escape into the atmosphere. Instead of paying the fines, these industries could pay for credits that were much less expensive than the fines.

Industries that produced methane gas can pay for credits earned by the landfill, which, for various reasons is not obliged to destroy the methane. It was in this way that the landfill made money by destroying methane produced by the rotting garbage.

The landfill was paid 80 cents a credit and produced 50 tons of credits per year. Under this program the landfill averaged a profit of $40,000 annually. There was a catch, though. Landfills that destroyed methane for credits could only participate in this program for 10 years. The New River Resource Authority collected its last credit payment last year, as 2018 marked their 10th year of participation in this program.

Methane can be deadly when inhaled but it does have its uses, namely it makes for a reliable source of energy.

In addition to burning methane gas for credits, the New River Valley Resource Authority board decided to explore the possibility of using the noxious gas as a source of fuel. Three years after implementing the process of destroying the gas for credits, the authority voted to allow a company by the name of Ingenco (now CCI) to construct a plant designed to convert the methane gas into electricity at the landfill. For the past several years, methane gas produced by the rotting garbage has been piped into this power conversion plant which uses 12 converted diesel engines to compress the gas, thereby producing enough electricity to power about 2,500 houses annually.

In this way, the landfill was paid for destroying the methane by the Climate Action Reserve, while also making money selling the methane so that it could be converted into electricity.

“Either way the gas is destroyed,” said Levine.

Although the methane destruction credit program ended last year, he authority will still earn between $6,000 and $9,000 a month from the sale of methane.

“We keep the lights on here with rotting trash,” said Levine.

Levine added that money made from these operations have helped to keep tipping (dumping) costs down, as prices have not been raised for more than a dozen years. Money generated from methane has also been used to put the authority back in the black.

“When I started here we were $12 million in debt with $3 million in the bank” said Levine. “Today we have $23 million in the bank and we’re debt free.”

Today the landfill has 19 employees including office staffers Marjorie Atkins, Sherry Johnson, Janet Goldstein and Dave Rupe (who is also the office artist).

The New River Resource Authority has applied for the use of 50 more acres of land at Cloyd’s Mountain to expand the landfill. Considering that the 250,000 who contribute waste to the landfill will continue to do so in the future, it’s a good bet that the landfill will continue to expand to service this region’s needs.

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