Rural landowners impacted by the dumping of construction dirt and debris on agricultural land may get some relief after new rules were approved by state lawmakers last month to address the issue.
The move comes after years of complaints from affected landowners in rural Virginia counties, including in Fauquier and Prince William, about the noise, traffic and drainage issues associated with construction dumping on rural lands.
In some cases, landowners have reported long lines of dump trucks traveling along rural roads to dump debris and dirt from construction sites on agricultural land. Others have reported massive dirt plateaus hovering over nearby properties.
Two bills sponsored by local lawmakers could put the brakes on the practice by providing additional oversight of construction dumping by state agencies.
Both bills were approved by the General Assembly last month. They’ll now head to the governor’s desk for final approval.
HB 1310, sponsored by Del. Michael Webert, R-18th, will require anyone dumping construction material to disclose information about the source and contents of the material being disposed and the location of the disposal to the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.
HB 1639, carried by Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-31st, directs the DEQ to convene a work group to research the practice of rural landowners allowing their lands to be used as disposal sites for construction fill and debris. The work group will consider recommending new regulations for possible adoption by DEQ.
Dan Holmes, director of state policy at Piedmont Environmental Council, said the new state regulations are an important first step in dealing with the issue.
“This will give the county a heads up so they can monitor any new fills and make sure it doesn’t get out of control,” Holmes said.
Holmes said that, until now, construction dirt dumping has been largely unregulated. In some cases, he said, construction dumping has resulted in massive fills of construction waste on agricultural land with little to no oversight.
“We only become aware of these when citizens raise issues,” Holmes said.
Holmes added that the legislation would not impact legitimate uses of fill on farmland. Additionally, the legislation will not create new penalties for rural landfilling, it simply allows for more regulation of the practice.
“It doesn’t change the law,” Holmes said.
Julie Bolthouse, Fauquier land use representative at Piedmont Environmental Council, said construction companies are likely paying landowners to deposit the waste on their property, but it’s not clear how much money landowners are making, or how much construction companies are willing to pay.
“That’s an open-ended question. We really don’t know,” Bolthouse said. “It’s hard to imagine this is just free dirt.”
The issue of construction site landfilling on rural land isn’t contained just to Fauquier County. According to Bolthouse, Piedmont Environmental Council has heard from concerned local officials in counties throughout northern and central Virginia.
Henry Harris, owner of Digges Valley Farm in Loudoun County, said he’s been dealing with a massive rural landfill on an adjacent property for years now.
Loudoun County ordered the landfill to stop its operations about a year ago, but the plateau of dirt and debris remains, looming over part of his farm, Harris said.
“We didn’t know what was happening for a long time. There was no notice at all from anybody about what was going on,” Harris said.
Harris said the landfill was created at the edge of his property over the course of about two years. He estimates that about 30,000 truckloads of dirt and debris were dumped there.
Harris said he was tipped off to the landfill by the large number of dump trucks travelling to his neighbor’s property.
“Traffic on the roads was a big deal,” Harris said.
Harris said he’s concerned about the environmental impacts of the landfill to nearby streams and water. Anything dumped there that is toxic could end up migrating onto adjacent properties, he said.
“We’re very concerned that we don’t know what was dumped there. There’s no surface and ground water monitoring,” Harris said.
“This is a massive thing. Anything this big should be subject to regulation.”
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