Public Meetings on I-95 Plant Purchase Begin Today
Some supervisors have made their position known, but Mckay says such statements are inappropriate
In Fairfax today the first of three public meetings will be held regarding the county’s option to purchase the I-95 waste-to-energy plant in Lorton.
The plant is currently owned and operated by New Jersey-based Covanta on 23 acres of land leased from Fairfax County.
Last week at a press conference, Fairfax County Executive Anthony H. Griffin endorsed the county’s option to purchase the plant. The price is estimated to be between $400-425 million and would be paid for by bonds from the Solid Waste Fund, which are guaranteed from tipping fees generated from trash collection. No revenue from the General Fund, which is created from tax dollars, would be used.
Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity has been an outspoken critic of the plan to purchase the plant, arguing that other projects such as schools and roads deserve priority. Board Chairman Sharon Bulova has not hinted at being for or against the plan, while Mount Vernon Supervisor Gerry Hyland has not taken a position publicly.*
One Supervisor, Lee District’s Jeff McKay, finds such public commitments, to be, at best, premature. “With negotiations between the County and Covanta ongoing, it's thoroughly unprofessional for a supervisor to express their opinion publicly, “ McKay said. “I think they're being derelict in their duty to the taxpayers when they are expressing their preference for something that is still in the negotiation phase and with such a high price tag."
Fairfax County and Covanta have been partners since 1990, and the current contract runs through 2016. However, a provision in the agreement allowed for a window of time—which we are currently in—for the county to explore purchase of the facility. The deadline for a decision is March 3 and the purchase is scheduled to be presented at the Board of Supervisors February 22nd session. However, Griffin expects that a 30-day extension will be granted. The county also has the option of extended the existing contract through 2031.
Griffin recommended the purchase based on several factors, not least of which are financial. Currently, the county receives $26 million annually in its contract with Covanta, a figure that Griffin believes could double were the county to own the plant. Also, based, on current market conditions, Griffin believes that the county would save a hundred million dollars over the life of the contract if the purchase went through now.
Of significant importance, according to Griffin, is the ability of the county to control its trash operations. Fairfax County is far and away the biggest customer of the I-95 plant. When the current contract expires in 2016 there is no guarantee that would continue. Covanta could conceivably bring in out-of-state customers which would have the two-fold effect of increasing tipping fees to Fairfax County residents and increase truck traffic on the narrow Furnace Road which is the only way to access the plant by vehicle.
Purchasing the facility would allow the county to control its own trash disposal, but also what other customers use the plant.
Some believe the maintenance costs have not been properly accounted for, nor has the county taken into consideration the impact of potential environmental regulations based on climate change. Further, technological advancements with respect to the conversion of waste-to-energy, which is the plants primary function, occur rapidly and come at a cost.
The plant, which has 67 employees, burns approximately 3,000 tons of energy per day and converts the steam generated from the burning into energy. A detailed explanation of how the procedure works can be found by clicking here.
Tonight’s meeting will be held at 7 p.m. in Fairfax Government Center, Conference Rooms 2 and 3. A second meeting will be held tomorrow in Reston at 7 p.m. in the North County Governmental Center. A third meeting will be on Thursday at 7 in the South County Secondary School.
* - A previous version of this story indicated that Chairman Sharon Bulova had hinted at supporting the plan to buy the Covanta plant. That is not the case. She has not taken a position publicly. We regret any confusion this may have caused.