Bristol's landfill. Courtesy of city of Bristol, Virginia.
Bristol's landfill. Courtesy of City of Bristol, Virginia.

Bristol’s two city governments issued a joint statement Friday saying they have reached a settlement in the federal lawsuit filed by Bristol, Tennessee, over Bristol, Virginia’s problematic landfill that would include a one-time payment of $300,000.

If approved next week by both city councils, it would mean that Bristol, Virginia, has settled both lawsuits filed against it over the landfill, which has drawn odor and emissions complaints on both sides of town for nearly two-and-a-half years.

“Both Bristols are pleased to bring an end to the lawsuit by finding common ground to move the entire Bristol community forward and believe that this is an important step towards rebuilding trust and cooperation among their combined community,” according to the statement.

In called meetings at 5 p.m. Monday, the two city councils will meet separately to consider a proposed consent order and permanent injunction that, if approved, would settle the suit and resolve all claims and allegations relating to operation and maintenance of the landfill. The facility, which stopped accepting trash last September, is located in an old quarry off Valley Drive.

The landfill, dubbed by some in the community as “the beast,” often gives off odors that smell like rotting, sour garbage and feces combined with a chemical smell. In addition to the stench, some have claimed it has caused health issues including headaches, nosebleeds, sleeplessness and vomiting.

Federal and state officials have been involved, and a panel of experts organized by the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality studied the problem and issued a report in April 2022. The odors, according to that report, are being caused by a combination of factors, including a reaction taking place within the buried waste, a likely failure of the subsurface sidewall liner system, elevated temperatures and settlement.

Bristol, Virginia, leaders have taken a number of steps to try to fix the issue, but the odors persist. The price tag for the remediation work and closing of the facility is now estimated at about $60 million. Facing a $30 million shortfall in the budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year, city council earlier this week raised the real property tax rate by 5 cents and is considering more than doubling the monthly trash collection fee, among other actions.

Southwest Virginia lawmakers asked the General Assembly to provide $12 million for the landfill, but that money stalled when the legislature adjourned without a budget agreement. On Wednesday, lawmakers returned to Richmond to take up vetoes and legislative amendments from Gov. Glenn Youngkin, but the budget stalemate continues.

Under the proposed consent order, no additional waste can be placed in the landfill and the city is required to obtain state DEQ approval to permanently close the facility once remediation efforts are complete. Leaders in Bristol, Virginia, also agreed to conduct continuous air monitoring for emissions including hydrogen sulfide and volatile organic compounds until a polyethylene cover has been placed over the landfill, the release states.

Bristol, Tennessee, officials filed the lawsuit in May 2022, and a judge ordered it to mediation in January.

Also in January, the city was hit with a second lawsuit over its ongoing landfill problems. It was filed by Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares on behalf of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the Virginia Waste Management Board and the Virginia Air Pollution Control Board.

On April 4, Miyares announced that an agreement had been reached in that lawsuit and a consent decree had been filed in Richmond Circuit Court.

Under that agreement, the city will be assessed a civil penalty of $377,697, but that amount will be suspended if the city completes the agreed-upon injunctive relief items. Those actions include construction of a sidewall odor mitigation system, upgrades of the wells and pumps within the landfill, implementation of an additional cover over the waste, intensive mapping and measurement of the landfill, and installation of a cover.

On Friday, the city updated the progress on its website, saying work continued this week on the second phase of the sidewall odor mitigation system and about 1,700 feet of the upper collector is now installed. Clay placement on the upper liner continues and there’s only one perimeter gas well remaining to be drilled for the gas well expansion design. The next step will be to hook the new perimeter wells into the existing gas extraction system, according to the update.

Susan Cameron is a reporter for Cardinal News. She has been a newspaper journalist in Southwest Virginia...