Federal court order finalizes Bristol landfill litigation
By: David McGee
federal judge on Monday accepted a consent order finalizing litigation between the two Bristols which resolves Bristol Tennessee’s lawsuit over the Bristol Virginia landfill.
Senior U.S. District Judge James P. Jones completed his review of the settlement and this week found “that the proposed consent order is fair, adequate, reasonable, appropriate and in the public interest.”
The order requires Bristol Virginia to implement a series of changes and improvements to its now-closed landfill to address widespread environmental and public health concerns. The city is currently engaged in those remediation efforts which are expected to be completed next year.
The city issued a statement through social media and on its website, thanking the court and the community.
“Bristol, Virginia is extremely pleased the consent order to resolve the litigation brought by Bristol, Tennessee against Bristol, Virginia relating to the Bristol quarry landfill has been accepted and entered by the federal District Court for the Western District of Virginia,” according to the statement.
“This action resolves the legal dispute and allows Bristol, Virginia to fully focus its resources and time on the remediation efforts at the landfill that are outlined in the consent order. We appreciate the court’s oversight and our citizens’ patience as we have worked to address these issues,” according to the statement.
Attorneys for both cities petitioned the court Aug. 18 to proceed with its ruling since a deadline for two federal agencies to intervene in the case had passed.
In its complaint filed in May 2022, Bristol Tennessee asserted Bristol Virginia violated the federal Clean Air Act, the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and committed a common law nuisance with pungent odors and other emissions from the landfill negatively impacting the community.
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality convened a panel of landfill experts that visited the site in March 2022 and established a series of projects designed to address those issues. The report was released in late April 2022 and Bristol Tennessee’s lawsuit was filed a month later.
“Bristol Virginia asserted its intent to cooperate in finding solutions to the landfill issues and by agreement of the parties, this court entered a preliminary injunction on June 14, 2022, directing Bristol Virginia to perform the recommended remedial actions, including stopping the acceptance of further landfill waste and installing a sidewall mitigation system around the perimeter of the landfill. As far as has been reported, the deadlines for these remedial actions were met,” Jones wrote in the order.
In March representatives from both sides participated in a court-directed mediation session, which generated the proposed consent order.
“Because the record in the case detailed the broad public interest in the subject of this lawsuit, I determined that it was appropriate to hold a public hearing to better inform the court. The widely advertised hearing was held on June 13, 2023,” Judge Jones wrote. “After comments and testimony, the parties requested that I reserve ruling until the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had received notice of the proposal. The parties now represent that the notice period has expired without intervention of the federal agencies, and request that the court proceed to rule.”
Under the heading of “fair,” Jones found both sides took the appropriate steps.
“The consent order remedies the alleged violations and holds Bristol Virginia accountable. There is also a substantial risk of protracted and costly litigation if the settlement is not approved,” Jones wrote.
To date financial records show each city has spent more than $1 million on this case.
As part of the consent order, Bristol Virginia must pay Bristol Tennessee $300,000.
The judge also deemed the order adequate, reasonable and appropriate.
“Here, the proposed consent order requires Bristol Virginia to remediate the harm caused by the landfill in accord with the April 25, 2022, expert panel report. It also requires Bristol Virginia to take the steps necessary to obtain approval to permanently close the Landfill to prevent future harm,” Jones wrote. “It incorporates the consent decree associated with the state court order. It grants Bristol Tennessee the right to inspect the landfill.
“Furthermore, it adequately and appropriately compensates Bristol Tennessee for the expense it has accrued in its attempt to mitigate the impact of the odors for its citizens. Moreover, I also find that the consent order adequately, reasonably, and appropriately addresses public objectives sought to be attained by Congress through the applicable federal laws,” the judge wrote.