With permit in legal limbo, Henrico landfill allowed to stay open pending appeal

The entrance of the TEEL landfill along Darbytown Road. (Jonathan Spiers)

A privately owned landfill in eastern Henrico County that had its permit to expand revoked this spring has been granted court approval to continue operations as it appeals the county’s decision to the state Supreme Court.

Henrico Circuit Court Chief Judge James Yoffy on Friday upheld the county’s revocation of a conditional-use permit that would have allowed The East End Landfill (TEEL) to expand to an adjoining contracting yard.

At the same time, Yoffy granted TEEL’s request to continue operating the existing facility at 1820 Darbytown Road on a limited basis pending its appeal to the state’s highest court.

The ruling was based on arguments heard in a three-day trial that took place in August.

While Yoffy ruled that the county’s revocation was valid – taking issue only with what he called ambiguous and vague language in one of three contested permit conditions – he agreed with TEEL’s attorneys that closing the facility would be detrimental to the public needing to dispose of construction, demolition and debris waste.

He also agreed it would be detrimental to TEEL, whose owner, Danny Meeks, testified that a full closure would result in about a dozen workers losing their jobs and lost profit, which Meeks put at as much as $6 million annually.

“We believe it’s in the public’s interest to fill a landfill,” said TEEL attorney Bryan Plumlee, arguing that available capacity remains at the landfill and that users would otherwise have to drive farther distances to other landfills at a cost of additional time and expense.

The Henrico Board of Zoning Appeals revoked TEEL’s conditional-use permit, or CUP, in March at the request of county staff, which found that TEEL had failed to secure required approvals from the state. TEEL disputed that claim, maintaining that it had the permits necessary to operate the facility from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. At issue was whether those requirements and permits applied to the planned expansion area.

The TEEL property spans about 108 acres. (Jonathan Spiers)

The CUP, awarded in 2013, allowed the landfill to expand from 47 to up to 74 acres. The TEEL property, consisting of two parcels, spans about 108 acres, half of which is currently within the state’s permitted waste management boundary, according to the company’s website. The adjoining contracting yard that would be included in the landfill expansion consists of one parcel totaling just over 11 acres.

The revocation required TEEL to stop accepting waste after 90 days, but the court allowed the facility to continue operating in a limited capacity.

Following Yoffy’s ruling upholding the board’s decision, Plumlee asked for permission for the landfill to maintain that status quo, contending it no longer is accepting materials that had been points of contention for the county in the past.

Yoffy’s ruling allows Henrico to test for those materials – coal combustion byproducts, auto shredder residue, shredded or recycled tires, and other items deemed hazardous by the state – during its routine monthly site inspections, and TEEL is prevented from pursuing the expansion that the CUP would have allowed.

Assistant County Attorney John Gilbody maintained that keeping the landfill open would send a message that violating county rules does not carry consequences.

“Do they get to break the rules but there’s no consequences when they get caught?” Gilbody asked the judge. Later, he said, “What they’re trying to do is litigate themselves out of the consequences.”

Yoffy countered that the rule-breaking in question – the use of woody sludge and bauxite mud as a cover for the landfill – was no longer an issue because TEEL was no longer using those for cover. He said if the county was so concerned about the presence of those materials, it would have tested for them before now.

When Gilbody cited opposition to the landfill, including county supervisors’ opposition to the permit in 2013, Yoffy took exception, stating he shouldn’t and wouldn’t take supervisors’ opinions into consideration.

“I don’t care what the elected officials have to say,” Yoffy said. “What I care about is did they or not violate the CUP. Elected officials have nothing to do with this.”

The contention between the landfill and the county goes back years through multiple ownership groups. In 2011, Henrico sued a prior ownership group for accepting materials such as coal ash and waste tires in violation of its permit. That lawsuit was dismissed two years later.

Meeks, who has owned TEEL for two years through his company Select Recycling Waste Services, said after Friday’s hearing that he plans to file suit against the county for damages while also appealing the permit revocation to the Supreme Court.

“This is going to be a major lawsuit,” said Meeks, a former Portsmouth City Councilman. “This is just the first battle.”

Meeks is represented by Hampton Roads-based law firm Poole Brooke Plumlee. Accompanying Plumlee at Friday’s hearing was fellow firm attorney Bob McDonnell, the former Virginia governor.

Henrico Supervisor Tyrone Nelson, whose Varina District includes the landfill, said he was pleased with the judge’s ruling Friday, given the history of the facility and its battles with the county.

Past issues have included truck traffic, debris on roads, fly ash, burning tires and unauthorized materials accepted at the site. (Jonathan Spiers)

Nelson said he’s heard complaints about TEEL since before he was elected to the board in 2011. Acknowledging the ownership changes over the years, he said past issues have included truck traffic, debris on roads, fly ash, burning tires and unauthorized materials accepted at the site.

“It’s been a challenging relationship with the community,” Nelson said. “The ownership or management has changed hands a couple times, and everybody comes in and says the same things, but there ends up being some type of disruption of the relationship with the community and the facility.

“Trying to expand their footprint for many more acres (and) keep this thing open for many more years, I don’t think it’s an environmental good, nor do I think it’s a good for the residents around it,” he said. “I’m glad that the judge made the decision that he made, and we’ll see what comes of it.”

The landfill isn’t the only business in Henrico with a beef against the county that’s appealing to the state Supreme Court. Blacksburg-based developer HHHunt is petitioning the court to hear its dispute with the county over a planned connector road between Wyndham and an adjacent development planned in Hanover County.

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