Good news, bad news

Published 10:52 am Friday, July 7, 2017

The concepts “good news” and “landfill” are not normally considered within the same sentence, but in the case of the latest meeting of the Southeastern Public Service Authority’s board of directors, there is a legitimate reason to utter those three words together in one sentence.

The board learned Wednesday that estimates have fallen regarding the cost of removing an unexpectedly huge amount of leachate — garbage juice in laymen’s terms — that had collected in two different cells within the authority’s regional landfill in Suffolk.

Officials had expected to spend as much as $11.4 million to rid the landfill of its excess liquid waste, which is a normal byproduct of garbage decomposition but had been allowed to accumulate to a level 30 times deeper than what is allowed by law. The good news board members received is that the cost now is expected to be half what was originally projected.

SPSA hasn’t historically been an agency known for having a lot of good news to share with the taxpayers who fund its waste-disposal activities. From the internecine battles between participating localities to the fiscal mismanagement that made headlines in the mid-2000s to the bullying tactics employed during talks to extend the authority’s lifespan beyond its originally planned termination next year, SPSA has long been a bucket of yuck — useful, in that there’s a bucket, but yucky, nonetheless.

Significantly, the only perspective from which an unexpected $5.7-million bill is good news is when one considers the fact that the bill could have been twice as high.

There’s still the simple and inescapable fact that SPSA officials failed to monitor leachate buildup adequately and were then smacked with a notice of violation from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality when it was discovered that, instead of the allowable 12 inches of leachate in a landfill cell, they had allowed things to get to the point at which there was 30 FEET of buildup.

Fortunately, the emergency operation that was set out to pump the leachate from the landfill seems to be working, and things are going more quickly than officials had expected.

But there’s still reason for concern, as a new program being launched by the Hampton Roads Sanitation District will make this entire process of removing leachate — whether on a regular, continuing basis or on an emergency basis — much more complicated than it has been in the past.

In the near future, liquid waste from landfills, which previously had been taken straight to HRSD for treatment, will have to be treated before it arrives at HRSD. That will likely result in a huge new cost to SPSA, along with a potential delay in the processing of that leachate.

Sadly, where SPSA is concerned it’s always good news/bad news, and every silver lining has a touch of gray.