Albemarle County Board of Supervisors
has temporarily re-affirmed their 2002 decision to allow construction companies to use asphalt as fill material. Board members had asked County staff to review the purpose and environmental consequences of allowing this practice at a meeting last April.
Listen using player above or download the podcast:
Staff reviewed the issue, and came to a determination that the current ordinances should be left unchanged. While there have been many objections to the idea of using asphalt as fill material on environmental grounds, both in Albemarle and other localities, staff was unable to find evidence of any complaints about specific instances. Staff has only heard complaints about asphalt disposal in situations where the asphalt was dumped on someone’s property without consent, which is illegal. Staff also did not find any evidence that there is an environmental risk associated with using asphalt as fill material, and noted that neither the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nor the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) prohibit the practice.
Supervisor Sally Thomas (Samuel Miller) said she was concerned with the practice on a number of grounds. Her primary concern centered around the fact that there is not a clear system for tracking where asphalt is used as fill material. She said a future homeowner who discovers that his land is full of chunks of asphalt would face many challenges in removing it.
“It’s not something you can pick up with your bare hands and carry away if you’re a homeowner, you have to hire thousands of dollars worth of heavy equipment (excavators) to clean up the mess that somebody left for you, that maybe nobody even recorded so you didn’t know it was there when you bought your land,” Thomas said.
There was a brief discussion of the permits that allow asphalt to be used as fill. Staff stated that while the existence of the permit would stay on file for the foreseeable future, the details of the permit and which specific materials were being buried would no longer be available after five years under current rules. Board member David Slutzky (Rio) verified with staff that it would be possible for prospective land buyers to determine whether or not such a permit had been issued for a particular property, and then pointed out that “40% of the island of Manhattan is fill, the word fill doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t want to be building on it, it just means you want to know what’s going on there, and it sounds like it’s available information.”
The discussion moved at Thomas’ urging onto the subject of recycling the asphalt. County staff discussed the possibilities with local construction companies, and the consensus was that the companies supported recycling in theory, but in practice were only comfortable reusing their own asphalt as a result of previous bad experiences with obtaining contaminated materials from other companies. Thomas asked about the possibility of an ordinance requiring that businesses in Albemarle recycle their asphalt, but was advised that such legislation was not a viable option from a legal standpoint. There are also currently no recycling firms in the area capable of handling asphalt, and staff estimated that there would be approximately $100,000 in startup costs for the Rivanna Solid Waste Authority (RSWA) to start such a program. The staff report County Executive Bob Tucker expressed a desire for recycling solutions that resulted from market forces rather than government regulations.
Slutzky asked Thomas to clarify the factors underlying her opposition to the practice, saying “You clearly don’t like this asphalt material being disposed of, is it a concern about health or ecological implications? The staff’s assuring us that there aren’t any…but it sounds like you aren’t convinced.”
Thomas responded that her primary concern was the future discovery issue, but she said she was “also not convinced, I’m sorry to say, similar to [household chemicals], there are too many things that people have said were fine 100 years ago that are now recognized to be killing people right and left.”
The Board chose not to alter the current ordinance, but asked staff to discuss recycling possibilities further with local businesses and with the consultants associated with the RSWA comprehensive plan.