Mega-landfill proposal threatens rural community, historic school

SELC attorney Travis Pietila discusses the community’s options at a meeting with AMMD Pine Grove Project members looking to protect their historic school house. (© Cale Jaffe/University of Virginia School of Law)

The proposed construction of a massive landfill in rural Cumberland County, Virginia, led SELC lawyers and the University of Virginia Law School’s Environmental and Regulatory Law Clinic to meet recently with residents looking to preserve the historic community the landfill would tower over. For years, the Agee Miller Mayo Dungy (AMMD) Pine Grove Project has worked to protect the historic African-American school at the heart of the community. Many of the group’s members attended the school, which sits across the street from the proposed landfill site.

Pine Grove Elementary School was completed in 1917 as part of a system of schools envisioned by educator Booker T. Washington and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald to educate African-American children in the South during the segregated Jim Crow era. The school was recently placed on state and federal historic registers.

The proposed landfill—the Green Ridge Recycling and Disposal Facility—would accept up to 5,000 tons of waste every day from a 500-mile radius extending well beyond Virginia’s borders.

Pine Grove School

For nearly 50 years, the Pine Grove School educated African-American students in rural Cumberland County, Virginia.

SELC has also been working with Preservation Virginia, the state’s leading historic preservation organization, to raise concerns about this mega-landfill and its potentially severe impacts on the school and nearby residents, sending letters to state and federal regulators urging greater scrutiny of the landfill’s permit applications.

“The increased traffic and pollution caused by this mega-landfill would have serious impacts on both this site and the surrounding community,” said SELC attorney Travis Pietila. “In addition, the applicant has done little to show there is sufficient need for a landfill of this massive scale.”

The landfill is proposed to operate 24 hours a day for much of the week and add up to 500 daily tractor-trailer trips to local roads when operating at full capacity. It would also threaten the area’s many streams and wetlands, and there are 44 private drinking water wells within 500 feet of the proposed facility.

The Pine Grove School, immediately adjacent to the proposed facility, operated as a school house from 1917 to 1964 and continues to serve as an important civic and social center for the local community.

As SELC attorneys noted in a letter to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality: “The close proximity of the proposed fill areas to this irreplaceable historic and cultural resource warrants DEQ’s closest consideration, and must be a central part of any public interest review”.

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