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Update: Russell County supervisors vote down landfill proposal

Two men and a woman stand on a small bridge, with trees behind them. One man and the woman are wearing camouflage shirts that read "overcome evil will good" with a yellow circle with a diagonal line, striking out the word landfill. The shirts are an homage to what striking miners in wore during the Pittston Coal Strike of 1989.
Roxy Todd
Josh Burgess, Jennifer Chumbley and Tim Wallace stand on a bridge that crosses Dumps Creek. They are next to the former Moss 3 Coal Preparation Plant, where a landfill could be built. Burgess and Chumbley are wearing shirts designed by a group of local organizers protesting the landfill. The design is an homage to what striking miners wore during the Pittston Coal Strike of 1989. A portion of the strike took place at Moss 3.

All seven members of the Russell County Board of Supervisors voted to terminate discussions with Nova Company of Virginia, the company that had proposed the landfill near the Clinch River.

Shawn Street, a reporter with The Lebanon News, described the scene as the vote was counted. "And tensions were just building more and more and more. All of that emotion just spilled out of everybody. Everybody leapt to their feet and was applauding," Street told Radio IQ. "It was like Lebanon had won the state football championship, you know? I mean, times three. It was just such relief and a celebration, all at once."

Original Story:
A proposal to build a large-scale landfill near the headwaters of the Clinch River is drawing opposition from residents in Russell County and surrounding areas. The county’s leadership could decide Monday evening whether to approve the landfill.

Tim Wallace stands facing the site where the landfill could go, on part of a 1,200 acre property where the former Moss 3 coal preparation plant once stood. Wallace, who used to work at the mine and knows how much mine waste is still left on that land, says he joined neighbors to oppose the landfill, because he doesn’t think it’s a safe location. He teaches a youth group class at his church, and many of the kids live a mile or two from here.

“How do I go to a class on Wednesday night and tell them we lost this fight? You know, it’s a fight we have to have,” Wallace said, standing beside Dumps Creek, which flows close to the site where the landfill could go, on its way to flow into the Clinch River.

Clinch River
Roxy Todd
Clinch River

Wallace and others point to the troubled Bristol landfill, where noxious fumes traveled over the state line and resulted in two lawsuits. This landfill in Russell County could be even larger than Bristol’s, and bring trash from out of state.

For the past seven months, residents in Russell County have organized a fierce campaign to fight the proposal.

“It doesn’t matter, you know, where you go to church, it doesn’t matter, politics,” said Jennifer Chumbley, who lives on a farm within view of where the landfill could go. “None of that matters. We are all together on this issue.”

Over a thousand residents and business owners have post yard signs opposing the landfill, and many have signed a petition against the project. Nearly four thousand people have joined a group on Facebook called “We Say No to Moss 3 Landfill.”

Chumbley, who until recently was mayor of the town of Cleveland, is concerned about the health of her family and neighbors, and risks to the environment. She and others in Russell County have been working to secure grants to build a campground in Cleveland, and other efforts to develop outdoor tourism. “We’ve just got started. We’ve worked really hard cleaning the river and learning not to pollute for the future, and we don’t want to go back to that way of life,” Chumbley said.

The former Moss 3 Coal Preparation Plant, which was built on top of an underground mine.  Just beyond the ridge in the background is where the proposed landfill would go, in between two coal refuse dams. The entire 1,200 acre area has been and is being reclaimed, in different stages, and some coal waste still remains.
Roxy Todd
The former Moss 3 Coal Preparation Plant, which was built on top of an underground mine. Just beyond the ridge in the background is where the proposed landfill would go.

Water near the proposed landfill flows into Dumps Creek, a tributary of the Clinch River, one of the most biologically diverse waters in the country and home to some of the rarest species of fish and mussels in the country.

The Clinch River is also the location of one of Virginia’s newest state parks, and a stretch in Russell County is a new addition to the park.

Biologists with the Nature Conservancy, Virginia Tech and the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources have been working collaboratively in the past several years to help bring endangered species of animals back to this watershed.

“The Clinch River is a protected treasure, and it needs to stay that way,” said Josh Burgess, who lives with his wife and son two miles from the proposed landfill. He owns a convenience store and works for the railroad, and said he’s seen other areas in other parts of the country, where trash is hauled in by train.

“And it’s not a pretty sight. The trash is over waist deep, and there’s stuff there that I will not describe that I’ve seen with my own eyes,” Burgess said. “And that’s why I’m so involved in it, because I’ve personally seen what’s comin here.”

He grew up in the shadow of coal’s decline, and watched as his elementary school in Cleveland was closed. His family has lived in Russell County for seven generations, but he said he and his wife have talked about moving, if the landfill comes to the area.

“Me personally, I feel like this, this is end all. I would leave this area,” Burgess said.

It’s not clear exactly how much trash would be brought to the landfill, which would be privately managed by the Nova Company of Virginia, but Burgess and other organizers say they’ve heard that it could be as much as a million tons per year, much of it from out of state.

Ernie Hoch, an engineer at TRC Companies, which has been hired by Nova as a consulting agency, has said in public meetings that the landfill will not leak, and won’t contaminate the groundwater or air, according to The Lebanon News.

Hoch was also an engineer who helped Bristol create a remediation project on its landfill in 2021. That landfill was built in a former stone quarry. At a public meeting in February, The Lebanon News reported that Hoch told concerned residents in Russell County that Bristol’s situation is unique, because that landfill collects water. RadioIQ reached out to Hoch for an interview, but did not hear back.

The price tag to clean up Bristol’s landfill is estimated to cost at least $60 million, and the work is expected to take years.

A sign outside a business in Russell County
Roxy Todd
A sign outside a business in Russell County

The Russell County Board of Supervisors could vote to approve the landfill proposal at a meeting Monday evening, which begins at 7:00. The board will go into closed executive session at the beginning of the meeting to discuss “legal matters” related to an “economic development project and the landfill host agreement.”



Updated: June 10, 2024 at 8:52 PM EDT
Updated with result of vote
Roxy Todd is Radio IQ's New River Valley Bureau Chief.