If you were to drive out Avon Street Extended from Charlottesville to Albemarle County you'd never know what had been on the right hand side of the road, down over the hill towards Moore's Creek. But go down and around to the walking trail at the bottom of the slope, on the opposite side of the stream near the Willoughby subdivision, and you can see what's left there and what's been falling into the water for years.

Mike Meintzschel lives nearby and has been working, along with his children, to pull all the trash they've been seeing out of the stream. He says anything you'll find in a landfill you'll find in the creek, too.

That's because the old Avon Street dump, long ago abandoned by the city of Charlottesville, Albemarle County and the University of Virginia is now collapsing into Moore's Creek. Much of the waterway's length defines the city's southern border with the county. And, every time Moore's Creek floods, more of the hillside is cut away, exposing layers of trash.

Graham Simmerman is a Waste Compliance Manager with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality. Based out of its Shenandoah Valley offices, he's an expert on landfills, and this one in particular. He says waste washing out into the stream is "unforgivable."

The trash is coming from a 20 foot high wall of old metal parts, tires and a tangle of almost everything you can imagine that stretches for more than a hundred yards near the creek. Photographs of the mess provided by NBC29 to Simmerman closely resemble ones the D.E.Q has taken themselves and that are stored in their files about the landfill.

The trash at the toe of the landfill is exposed, rusting and slowly moving towards the water. The D.E.Q. says there's more to the trash than what meets the eye because the landfill also contains measurable amounts of medical waste and asbestos.

But precisely what's in the landfill and exactly what's seeping out is not known. Simmerman says the developer was reluctant to do a lot of environmental testing, and even though they've committed to doing some in the future, there are no results yet. He adds that the D.E.Q hasn't done any either even though they've known about the problem there for years. Simmerman said, "We don't have the capability, we don't have the funding, we don't do environmental sampling."

1937There are no nearby wells that could be contaminated by fluids leeching from the landfill into the ground water. That makes the chemical and biological risk from the landfill less than it might otherwise be. It also partly explains why this dump site has never moved higher on the state's priority list. But Simmerman says there's still a physical danger there, all within sight of the Willoughby subdivision and curious neighborhood kids who play in the creek and may be tempted by the collection of rusting debris.

Back in 1937, the property was surrounded by orchards and aerial photographs show the area dotted with apple and peach trees.

1957By 1957 photographs show the landfill as an obvious scar and the orchards were gone.

Then in 1974, about the time the landfill was closed and new state and federal environmental laws were set to take effect, other pictures taken from the air show where Interstate 64 cut through the property and the beginning of construction on the Willoughby sub-division.

Albemarle County tax records show that the land where the dump sat has been owned, since the 1970s by the state, then a family, a business and now a developer.

1974The development may be the saving grace in this story. Simmerman credits business opportunities driving health and safety opportunities. "If there wasn't a demand for the land," he says, "and there wasn't a willing developer coming in there with the know-how, the manpower and the equipment to do this work (the old landfill) would likely set there."

The company that wants to build a shopping center between 5th Street and Avon needs a connecting road to go across the old dump site, and to get it, is working with Albemarle County and the D.E.Q. to do the remediation work. Together they have developed a comprehensive plan for handling the landfill and the trash that's spilling out of it. Albemarle County supervisor David Slutzky, who has a professional background dealing with environmental issues, applauds the work that's being done saying "It's great to have a private developer who has an economic interest in seeing to it that it gets cleaned up properly."

The clean-up will not be cheap. No one's quite sure exactly how much it will cost yet, but Alan Taylor the Vice President of Riverbend Management, the company representing the business interests behind the shopping center development, says he anticipates the costs at something between $1,000,000 and $3,000,000. That is, he notes, a relatively small fraction of the overall project's expected price tag of nearly $90,000,000 and a cost that's been built in to the planning all along. "

At the end of day," he says, "we'll have not only a successful development but will have dealt with the effected areas that people have concerns over."

The clean-up costs will pay for much of the trash to be pulled back away from the creek, stabilize the steep hillside, stop the creek bank erosion from undercutting the landfill, re-slope the hill, cover it with dirt and a specially designed turf reinforcement matting and replant grass on the property.

The money men behind this, including real estate and banking icon Hunter Craig and Dave Matthews Band manager and real estate investor Coren Capshaw, will be part of the investment team developing the as-yet-unnamed shopping mall that's planned to play host to a big box home improvement center, a high end grocer and a list of other retailers. Negotiations continue for those leases and, as yet, no deals have been publicly announced.

Taylor says despite the recession, the development and the landfill remediation work will come to fruition: "Even though these are scary economic times... it'll happen, regardless of how bad things are."

Taylor says it would be at least two years from now before, at the earliest, that the project would be completed.

Until then, neighbors, including Meintzschel, who routinely walks the trail near the failing landfill and who, along with his children has tried to keep picking trash from the dump out of Moore's Creek, says he'll struggle to explain all of this to his kids.

"There's really no sense to it," he says, "I think (my children's) concerns are... we're smarter than that and why don't we do anything about it?"

Reported by David Foky
NBC29 HD News

If you were to drive out Avon Street Extended from Charlottesville to Albemarle County you'd never know what had been on the right hand side of the road, down over the hill towards Moore's Creek. But go down and around to the walking trail at the bottom of the slope, on the opposite side of the stream near the Willoughby subdivision, and you can see what's left there and what's been falling into the water for years.