Turning Trash To Treasure

WHEELING – From a botanical garden to an “extreme” paintball course, Wheeling residents presented a variety of visions Thursday for transforming a former dumping ground for trash into a city treasure.

As the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection prepares to spend $8 million or more to clean up the long-closed North Park Landfill, city officials hosted a community meeting regarding the future of the site. A group of about 30 people, some residents of the North Park area and some from other areas of the city, showed up to share their ideas and concerns about the potential redevelopment of the former land as a recreational area.

With a number of ballfields already established around the city and a multi-million dollar sports field project under way in East Wheeling, many of those in attendance seemed lukewarm to the idea of building another.

One resident pointed out the potential for the ground to settle, making it less than ideal for baseball fields, tennis courts or similar facilities. Another man who said he has experience in landfill engineering said it would be possible, but the city would have to be diligent in taking care of it.

“The problem I can see … is maintenance,” he said, noting he’d rather have a hiking trail than ballfields. “The city has somewhat of a reputation for not maintaining sport fields.”

One woman said she’s an avid trail runner and would support the idea of a hiking trail. Another suggested a nice playground, similar to those offered at Oglebay and Wheeling Park. Other ideas included a dog park, botanical garden, mountain biking course and leaf composting facility.

James Hemme of GAI Consultants Inc., a firm hired by the city to help develop a conceptual plan for the site, said there is a total of about 125 acres available. About 35 of those acres are relatively flat or gently sloped.

The site is actually two separate landfill facilities, the older of which closed in 1983 and the newer in 1994.

“There’s actually enough room for a par-three golf course” at the newer landfill, Hemme said.

For those areas with more rugged terrain, suggestions included a zipline or an “extreme paintball” course.

One man noted said he does not want to see all-terrain vehicle use, dirt bike riding and other activities that create noise pollution at the site, which is very close to a residential neighborhood.

And a couple residents brought up the deteriorating condition of roads in the area, particularly Northern Parkway and Mount Wood Road. They said if the city is looking to create a facility that has the potential to become popular, officials should look at improving those roads as part of their plan.

Though the meeting represented an important early step, real movement toward redeveloping the landfill site likely is several years away, according to officials.

Wheeling recently received a $5,000 “mini-grant” through the Northern West Virginia Brownfields Assistance Center to engage the community and develop a plan for the site. The city doesn’t have any funds set aside to complete a project there, however, and Community Development Specialist Melissa Thompson said putting a coherent plan on paper could go a long way in obtaining grants for that purpose.

The North Park Landfill was one of dozens of facilities across the state that did not meet new regulations and were targeted for closure when the West Virginia Legislature established the Landfill Closure Assistance Program in 1992. The program is funded through a $3.50-per-ton tax on all solid waste disposed of in West Virginia.

Environmental cleanup would include sealing the areas of the landfill where garbage has been dumped with a “geomembrane” liner – often composed of PVC, polyethylene or other impermeable substances – and grading the site with a two-foot layer of dirt necessary to allow grass to grow.

Ken Ellison, director of the DEP’s Division of Land Restoration, said there is no specific timetable yet for that work to begin. He noted the DEP prioritized landfill closure projects to take care of the most egregious environmental offenders first, and the North Park Landfill was not among the worst.