Thursday, April 25, 2013

PW Landfill and Piedmont Environmental Council Win Environmental Awards

The 2013 Virginia Governor’s Environmental Excellence Awards were announced on April 10, 2013, at the Environment Virginia Symposium in Lexington, VA. Among the nine Gold Medal Winners were two wonderful local organizations: Prince William County’s Solid Waste Division for its Sustainability Program and the Piedmont Environmental Council for its Land Conservation Program.

Prince William County’s Sustainability Program at the landfill encompasses recycling, groundwater protection, storm water management, erosion control, air quality monitory, alternative energy generation, material reuse and habitat development. As a part of its community outreach efforts, the landfill facilities have been opened to citizens, school groups, bird watchers, business groups and professional organizations. The Solid Waste Division shares credit for the program’s success with county management support, a strong working relationship with regulatory agencies, and community involvement and pride. Tom Smith, chief of the County’s Solid Waste Division, said, “Prince William County recognizes the importance of protecting the health, safety, and environment of the community we serve. I’m very proud of what the County has accomplished with regards to environmental sustainability.”

In 2012 the landfill was designated an “Audubon at Home” wildlife sanctuary. According to the Prince William Conservation Alliance, who organizes the annual Nokesville Christmas Bird Count, the Prince William County Landfill has the largest numbers of Bald Eagles in the county. On Christmas day 2012 the Birders counted 10 adults and 10 immature Bald Eagles, along with many gulls including 650 Ring-billed Gulls and three Great Black-backed Gulls.

The life expectancy of the landfill has been prolonged to 2065 through expanding recycling and composting in the county. The landfill is targeting to achieve 40% recycling countywide by 2015. The landfill is built as a series of cells that include liners of plastic membranes and watertight geo-synthetic clay liner fabric on the bottom along with a leachate collection system. At the end of each day, earth covers the trash deposited in the cell, to keep animals away and improve aesthetics. When a cell if full, it is capped to prevent (or at least limit) the rain that percolates through the landfill and covered in soil.

The PW Landfill has 48 groundwater monitoring wells, and 78 landfill gas extraction wells. Landfill gas is generated during the natural process of bacterial decomposition of organic material contained in the trash buried in the landfill. Landfill gas is approximately forty to sixty percent methane, with the remainder being mostly carbon dioxide with varying amounts of nitrogen, oxygen, water vapor, sulfur, and other contaminants. The gases produced within the landfill are either collected and flared off or used to produce heat and electricity. The landfill gas cannot be allowed to build up in the landfill because of the risk of explosion. More than 7 million tons of trash buried at the landfill. That trash currently generates 2,700 standard cubic feet per minute of landfill gas and will increase. Flaring the gas releases greenhouse gases to no purpose.

In 1998 the County formed a partnership with Fortistar to install a landfill gas collection system and a 1.9 MW energy recover facility which is a two engine turbine that burns the gas to make electricity that is sold to NOVEC, the local electric cooperative. The 1.9 MW energy recovery system is currently operational, but the amount of landfill gas generated has increased from 1600 scfm in 1999, to the current amount of 2600 scfm, and is utilizing less than 25% of the currently available landfill gas for energy recovery. Three (3) additional turbine engines are scheduled to be installed by August 2013 to produce additional 4.8 MW of electricity. Additional gas will be available even after the new engines are installed and will provide landfill gas to heat the Fleet Maintenance Building and provide fuel to the Animal Shelter through a new gas pipeline. The landfill is moving forward to develop plans to create an “ECO Park” at the landfill.

The Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) located in Warrenton received their award for their land conservation work combining public and private initiatives with market-based solutions to achieve regional conservation goals. Heather Richards, accepted the award on behalf of the Piedmont Environmental Council and said, “We are honored to be recognized for over 40 years of work in preserving the scenic, cultural, and natural resources of the Piedmont. The need for land conservation remains strong throughout our region and all of Virginia, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with landowners and the community to protect the landscape that makes this place special to us all.”

PEC staff work with landowners bringing a holistic approach to land conservation. They see the decisions of individual landowners to protect their land in a larger, collective context. PEC reaches out to landowners to raise the idea of land conservation and meeting with those who are interested in conserving their land bringing experience and knowledge to help the landowners through the process. As an accredited land trust, they also hold conservation easements directly. PEC currently holds 47 easements -- protecting over 6,600 acres in our region.

I know PEC through their Sustainable Habitat Program. PEC works with landowners throughout the region on land management strategies to improve wildlife habitat and water quality. PEC works to educate all types of landowners about our region’s crucial ecosystems and the small and large steps we can all take to protect our wildlife corridors and watershed. PEC staff stays up to date with local, state and federal policy regarding land conservation. This year, PEC played a major role in writing and introducing a bill in the Virginia General Assembly, HB 1398, which protects and expands the tools available for helping landowners conserve their land in perpetuity. The bill passed with board bi-partisan support.
Photo of native plant and grasses in Loudoun is by Katherine Vance
Also receiving a Gold Medal Award was Virginia Tech for its Sustainability Program, with four components targeting improving the efficiency of facilities and operations, enhancing academic programs related to sustainability, engaging the larger community, and changing campus culture and behavior to conserve energy, water and materials. (Green Risks supplies content for the Extension newsletter published at Virginia Tech.)

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