Politicians Try To Avoid Getting Soiled By Sludge Issue Residents Don't Like It, But State May Need To Use County's Facilities

October 03, 1990|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

TANEYTOWN - The six County Commissioner candidates told an environmentally concerned audience Monday night what it wanted to hear -- that Carroll shouldn't be a depository for any sludge generated outside its borders.

That's the politically expedient answer for would-be commissioners interested in protecting their turf, but it might not be practical or responsible, said Delegate Lawrence A. LaMotte, D-Carroll, Baltimore, at a candidates forum at Taneytown Baptist Church.

The forum for commissioner, General Assembly and Carroll state's attorney candidates, attended by about 80 residents and community activists, was sponsored by NETWORK, a coalition of four northwest county environmental and civic organizations and other interested citizens.

Sludge has become a dirty word in this part of the county since an expansive storage facility to contain the solid byproduct of sewage treatment plants was constructed on a farm near Taneytown without notice to surrounding residents almost two years ago.

Enviro-Gro Technologies Inc., the Baltimore waste-management company that built the pit, began filling it in spring 1989 with sludge trucked in from as far away as Washington and Hanover, Pa.

Residents raised a stink with the County Commissioners, complaining that odors, possible water and land contamination and potential property value declines would diminish their quality of life. They succeeded in gaining a County Board of Zoning Appeals hearing and a ruling against the pit. The case has reached the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

In response to that situation, the commissioners now are considering a zoning ordinance that would allow storage of sludge only at publicly owned sewage treatment plants in Carroll, effectively restricting the importation of sludge from other jurisdictions and storage at alternate sites.

While some commissioner candidates said they weren't too familiar with the proposed ordinance, they generally agreed that Carroll should be responsible for disposing of its own sludge and nobody else's.

"Sludge should not proliferate at all," said Manchester Mayor Elmer C.

Lippy Jr., a Democratic candidate for commissioner. "I would want to talk to the state about that."

While not directly addressing the county's proposed ordinance, LaMotte implied that its premise could conflict with state goals.

"In 1983, we implemented a statewide sludge policy, and it has worked well with some exceptions," he said. "We can't do it on a county-by-county basis. It must be statewide. We can't be responsible for just our own.

Where are we going to put it? We have to find alternatives."

Sludge commonly is spread on agricultural land as a fertilizer. It also can be heated and dried for use as fertilizer.

Discussions about sludge disposal, protection for residents from potential damages from mining activities and ways to improve communication between elected officials and citizens concerning environmental matters dominated the question-and-answer session.

Delegates Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard, and Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll, vowed if re-elected to continue efforts during the next General Assembly session to pass measures to protect residents whose property or water supplies are damaged by mining operations. Dixon said the delegation has not received the support it wants from the commissioners in its battle against the mining lobby over the last few years.

Senate District 5 candidate Jeff Griffith said he would sponsor legislation intended to reverse precedent set in a state court ruling that a quarry company could not be held liable for damages to surrounding property. His GOP opponent, Larry E. Haines, said he would support a bill allowing the state to define a "zone of influence" around mining operations.

Republican commissioner candidate Donald I. Dell, along with Democratic candidates Richard F. Will Sr. and Lippy, suggested the county's comprehensive planning and zoning must be scrutinized more carefully and improved to avoid future conflicts between development and natural resource protection.

Commissioner Julia W. Gouge, the only incumbent running, stressed that Carroll has been progressive in administering state-mandated programs and responsive to environmental concerns in the last four years.

County State's Attorney Thomas E. Hickman, carrying a baseball bat, emphasized he "went to bat" for Carroll residents concerned about water contamination from the Keystone Landfill near the Pennsylvania border.

"We've prosecuted water polluters the best we can, whenever we can," he said.

He said the case he intended to bring against the landfill owners was "somewhat sabotaged by state experts who wouldn't testify."

Democratic challenger Jerry F. Barnes said he would include on his staff an attorney specially trained in environmental law to prosecute those type of cases.

"You can't prosecute a case if you can't develop it," he said.

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