Wise County panel to judge feasibility of coal exploration near landfill

Stephen Igo • Apr 15, 2007 at 11:33 AM

WISE - A committee created to look into possible coal mining activities conducted next to Wise County's landfill should be gathered and meet for the first time in the next two to three weeks, County Administrator Glen "Skip" Skinner said Friday.

On Thursday, the Wise County Board of Supervisors appointed Supervisors Bob Adkins of Wise and Fred Luntsford Jr. of Appalachia to a committee being formed by, and at the request of, Skinner. A coal operator approached county officials recently about the possibility of conducting coal exploration activities adjacent to the county landfill in Blackwood, and Skinner asked the board to give him the authority to create the committee to explore the proposal before making any recommendations.

On Friday, Skinner declined to identify the coal company because the idea of conducting coal operations so close to the landfill may not be pursued anyway. As far as he is aware, Skinner said the operator has not filed any permits or other documentation with the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy in Big Stone Gap.

"The big picture, we've got the landfill and there are coal resources in and around it and so forth, and adjacent property owners with coal resources, a lot of it previously mined," Skinner said.

Protecting groundwater resources are a major environmental concern with any landfill, and potential mining activities near a landfill would necessarily require moving cautiously to even consider such a thing, he said.

"I got to the point that I now need board input. That's a policy issue rather than an administrative issue, in my opinion," Skinner said. "A lot of questions need to be answered, so (the committee) will have a discussion and begin to get a handle on it."

For about 15 months the county has all but idled the landfill, keeping the active cell open to accept only construction and demolition debris.

The county built a transfer station to receive and pack up household trash and other waste to be hauled to a private landfill in Tennessee. The cost to county taxpayers is around $36 per ton, or anywhere from $90,000 to $110,000 a month, depending on volume, representing a considerable savings to the costs of operating a landfill, particularly when preparing and opening new cells.

Skinner said the committee will also review the status of the current active cell at the landfill to determine its projected ability to accept construction and demolition debris, as well as review the county's waste management strategies as they have developed over the last 15 months.

Since becoming an exporter of trash rather than dealing with the onerous costs associated with being a landfill operator subject to strict state and federal environmental regulations, Skinner said he believes the current transfer system has lived up to the board's expectations, particularly on the cost-savings end of the spectrum.

"I'm convinced that our transfer station is a good way of managing our solid waste," he said.

Besides Adkins and Luntsford, Skinner said another certain appointee to the review committee will be county Public Works Director Jackie Darter. Others will be determined and may include representatives from the DMME.

Other supervisors expressed interest in attending the committee sessions. All are welcome, board Chairman Ronnie Shortt said Thursday, but advised Skinner to keep public notice of committee meetings in mind if three or more supervisors plan to attend the meetings.

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