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South Boston NewsSouth Boston News
The brush disposal bin at the South Boston Convenience Center, currently closed for public use, and tree wastes piling up in the Town of South Boston. / October 07, 2019
With cooler weather on the way and leaves falling to the ground, keeping a property free of yard wastes becomes a pressing concern for landowners — and recent events are only making the disposal process more difficult.

Halifax County’s burning ban, imposed due to drought conditions, closes off one avenue for getting rid of leaves, limbs, trees and other brush. But another recent development is aggravating the problem — the shutdown of the brush disposal area at the South Boston Convenience Center.

According to Danny McCormick, supervisor of South Boston Public Works, “the gates were closed because the brush pile was abused.” McCormick said the town convenience center stopped accepting yard wastes for disposal about three weeks ago.

He explained that tree and yard wastes were coming in with too much trash mixed in, especially plastic bags. The contamination makes it difficult to recycle the brush material as mulch. Another option, burning wood wastes at the South Boston Energy Plant, the wood-burning generation facility operated by NOVEC (Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative), also becomes less feasible with the presence of trash, McCormick explained.

“One plastic bag will mess up the whole thing,” he said.

Prior to the closure, people who hauled in brush to discard at the convenience center would be directed to unload their piles in a dumpster inside the fenced-off area, located behind the convenience center’s “free-cycle” shed for the exchange of reusable items. The chain-link fence blocks off the town landfill, closed since 2007, but vehicles loaded up with brush were allowed to pass through the gates and dump their loads into the bin.

“We had to draw the line somewhere,” said McCormick of the decision to stop accepting yard and tree waste deposits at the convenience center, the county’s largest such facility.

Tree service and landscaping vendors who rely on the convenience center for waste disposal are grumbling about the closure, as well as the lack of notification of the decision. Kenneth Hodges, president of H&M Logging in Sinai, said his business has been among those that are affected: “I was denied [access] to dispose tree trimmings from a residence in South Boston.” Hodges has since had to stow wood wastes on his property.

Other operators say they’re in the same boat. “My personal property is overflowing,” said Brandon Mills, owner of Mill’s Tree Service of Scottsburg. Mills has an array of piles — brush, limbs, logs and wood chips — lining the field behind his home. He gives away mulch chips and firewood for free.

Tree service companies are finding themselves in the position of no longer being able to clear a homeowner’s property of yard wastes when, say, they take down a tree or trim away a large brush area. Without access to the South Boston Convenience Center, their next best available disposal option is the regional landfill located between Boydton and Chase City, the main facility of the Southside Regional Landfill Authority of which Halifax County is a part.

Aside from the distance involved — a 74-mile round trip from South Boston — the regional landfill also charges a $10 per ton tipping fee for yard waste materials.

Tree removal contractors say the problem is already showing up in the amount of tree limbs, tree trucks and other yard wastes that line streets in the area.

Chris and Bryce Rose, of Rose Tree and Stump Removal, reeled off the names of a number of streets in South Boston where tree wastes are piling up — Friend Avenue, Haskins and Chamberlain streets.

“It is an eyesore and a hazard for people driving [on the street],” Bryce Rose said. A driver could easily hit a limb sticking out from the curb, he added.

David Rose added that the convenience center closure has hurt business for all providers. “We can’t eat all this [debris].”

Another landscaper, who asked that his company name not be mentioned, said he, too, is running out of options on where to unload tree trimmings. There are only so many times a friend, living in a rural area in the county, will let you dump on their land, he said. Some landowners might have space for a compost pile and do not mind having debris left on their property. However, many other homeowners want their messes gone, leaving their yards clean and pristine.

The dilemma is prompting tree companies and landscapers to pull back from the brush disposal business, which puts the burden on county landowners to figure out how to get rid of their wood and yard wastes.

The onus also falls on the Town of South Boston public works department, which is responsible for keeping town streets clear of debris. While it is illegal to place yard debris in the road — Virginia deems it a misdemeanor offense, punishable by fines and even possible jail time — the abundance of wood wastes is testing the ability of residents to keep their curbside piles in check.

Public works runs two vehicles for street cleanup: a leaf vacuum truck and another truck with a claw arm for loading up stumps, downed trees and large branches. McCormick stresses the role of homeowners in speeding up the street clearing process: “There are different types of equipment used for collecting limbs versus leaves.”

All the debris should be placed at the edge of yard near the curb, McCormick said. Residents should make separate and distinct piles for leaves, brush, and logs. Separating yard wastes will speed up collection times, he said. Also, the collector will be able to pass through neighborhood more swiftly.

Soon, the abundance of fall leaves on the ground will amp up the need to clear streets more quickly. While some residents may be inclined to bring leaves and easy-to-load yard wastes to the South Boston Convenience Center to discard in the big open bin that sits in the main area of the facility, that container is meant for large household trash — items such as discarded furniture, construction waste materials, and other oversized items. Brush wastes are not supposed to be thrown in the bin.

On other possible option for disposing of wood and yard wastes — taking them to the South Boston Energy Project, the wood- and biomass-burning electric generator operated by NOVEC — is limited by the plant’s exacting specifications for fuel stock. In general, the plant only accepts large volume shipments of wood chips, cut in precise fashion to burn more efficiently.

NOVEC receives chips hauled by tractor trailers. The “operation is not equipped to handle” loads delivered in smaller vehicles, explained Mike Davis, NOVEC’s Fuel Procurement Manager.

“NOVEC strives to be a good steward of the community and works with smaller contractors if there is a way.” He expressed the hope that Halifax County can find a way to accept and dispose of tree debris from tree service and landscaping companies.

Representatives of tree service and landscaping companies say they want to see the convenience center reopened to accept yard wastes. Contractors offered several suggestions for dealing with the problem of contaminated loads: A full-time attendant could be hired to inspect loads to ensure they are trash-free, or the town and county could install cameras, scales and charge a fee to defray the expense of monitoring loads that would once again be dumped into the convenience center’s brush bin.

Another possible solution, the contractors propose, would be to designate an aggregator business to chip the debris. An aggregator firm working on behalf of the county could be just the entity to work with NOVEC to increase the amount of local waste wood to burn at the facility, they suggest.

Lastly, a private partner working in tandem with local government could mulch yard wastes and sell it back to the community. Some cities do this and provide the mulch for free.

McCormick said possible solutions “need to be examined” not only by the Town of South Boston, but also the county. While the South Boston Convenience Center lies inside town limits, solid waste collection and disposal is a function of county government.

He agreed that having an attendant at the convenience center who could check on brush loads for contamination would help — a solution that echoes one of the ideas, later rejected, for rebooting the county’s recycling program. After Halifax County discontinued recycling, it fielded requests from citizens to hire someone to monitor loads of recyclables for stray material. Rather than take on the expense of hiring monitors at local convenience centers, the county revamped the recycling program with newly-painted recycle bins and improved signage, although with public education outreach.

However, county officials also received criticism for shutting down recycling and not informing the public — bins of recyclables were, for a time, tossed into landfills — and tree and landscape contractors have made similar complaints about the closure of the brush bin area at the South Boston convenience center, which was done without their knowledge.

Asked if public works provided public notice that brush would no longer be accepted at the center, McCormick replied, “I can’t say that we did.”

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Yet we got to pay that $75. Our damn property tax is suppose to cover the cost of trash collection. Not a fee.

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