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County seeks to restrict mowing at Lorton landfill during bird nesting season

Fairfax County’s I-95 Landfill Complex (via Google Maps)

(Updated at 5:05 p.m. on 2/29/2024) Fairfax County’s supervisors believe that grassland birds deserve a safe nesting ground, even if it’s atop a former landfill.

The Board of Supervisors directed county staff on Feb. 20 to work with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia to identify areas within the I-95 Landfill Complex (9850 Furnace Road) in Lorton where mowing can be minimized to protect grassland birds during their nesting season.

Though the facility still provides waste disposal services, most of the landfill closed around the late 1980s to early 1990s, according to Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck’s office.

Since then, the site has become a habitat for 100 species of grassland birds, including grasshopper sparrows, eastern meadowlarks, bobolinks and American kestrels.

“These are all birds of concern because of declining grassland habitats,” Greg Butcher, the former director of bird conservation for the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, told FFXnow in an email.

The Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) currently has an agreement with the Audubon Society to permit bird monitoring at the landfill.

Recently, the environmental organization reached out to the board, urging the county to consider restrictions on mowing during the nesting season, from April 1 to mid-July, due to its potential to destroy nests and eggs and harm fledglings and adult birds.

However, since federal and state regulations require mowing for post-closure maintenance of the landfill, DPWES and the Audubon Society must collaborate with DEQ to devise a strategy that both preserves nesting birds and ensures access to the landfill cover and gas wells, while also maintaining proper drainage.

Representatives from DPWES and the Audubon Society are set to start discussions soon and aim to formulate a plan in the upcoming weeks, DPWES Deputy Director Eric Forbes told FFXnow in an email.

“We are anticipating about a month for the development and coordination of the pilot plan to try to be ready for this season’s bird nesting,” he said. “The pilot plan would include a map showing no mow areas, access pathways to our landfill infrastructure (gas wells and stormwater conveyance), and a schedule for mowing in non-peak nesting season.”

For its part, the Audubon Society plans to send volunteers to map the locations of the birds and their potential nesting areas, Butcher says. But he noted the organization doesn’t know yet how big the “no-mow” area will need to be.

It’s also unclear how much the project will cost, but the board asked staff to provide an estimate in a report.

The county’s future plans for the now-closed parts of the I-95 landfill include a solar panel array and a potential indoor skiing facility from the Tysons-based company Alpine-X.

In addition, a public park with trails, an amphitheater and other amenities is being developed on the former Lorton Landfill across the street at 10001 Furnace Road. Owned by Furnace Associates, Inc., the private landfill stopped accepting construction and demolition debris in 2018 and completed the closure process in 2021.

Correction: This story originally conflated the I-95 Landfill Complex with the privately owned Lorton Landfill. It has been updated to clarify that the two sites are different. Image via Google Maps

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