County Circuit Judge Cypert O. Whitfill has overturned a County Council decision to reject an asbestos and rubble fill near Havre de Grace, saying the council acted beyond its authority.
Whitfill's ruling, issued Wednesday, clears the way for the rubble fill's developer, Maryland Reclamation Associations Inc. of Churchville, to seek a state permit to open the landfill on 55-acres off Gravel Hill Road.
Maryland Reclamation filed suit on May 11 asking the court to declare the council's vote illegal and nullify it.
Whitfill said his 38-page ruling addresses only the county's authority -- not whether the Gravel Hill site is appropriate for the asbestos and rubble fill.
Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson strongly criticized the ruling, arguing that the council was justified in its decision to reject the rubble fill.
"I disagree with Judge Whitfill on all parts of the decision," Wilson said. "I think a decision that is as bad as that one should be appealed."
Wilson said he expects the council members to consider filing an appeal of Whitfill's ruling at their regular meeting Tuesday. He said he is already prepared to vote in favor of appeal.
In the ruling, Whitfill refers to concerns by some council members, including Wilson, over the role of state Delegate William H. Cox Jr., D-District 34, in the rubble fill. For example, Whitfill refers to a deposition taken in the suit in which Wilson said he believed that the rubble fill permit request was "fast-tracked" through the state Department of the Environment because of Cox's role with the project.
Richard Schafer, president of Maryland Reclamation, said in a prepared statement that the company will move forward with its plans, adding that he hopes to work "in harmony" with the citizens who own property neighboring the rubble fill site.
"Although some animosity has arisen during the debate, I see no honest reason why we can't now try to live as good neighbors," Schafer said in the statement.
Maryland Reclamation sued four residents who live near the rubble fill site for defamation after they fought the company's plan for the dump. Each of the residents filed countersuits.
Attorneys in the case say they are not sure how Whitfill's ruling will affect the suits.
The environment department is reviewing Whitfill's ruling to determine its next step in the study of Maryland Reclamation's request for a permit, said department spokesman John Goheen.
It was not immediately clear what effect any council appeal would have on the department's review process.
Maryland Reclamation has provided the department with studies on the site's geology and ground water. It must also provide an engineering study and go through a public hearing before a permit is granted, Goheen said.
In his ruling, Whitfill includes statements made by Wilson and Councilwoman Barbara A. Risacher, D-District A, voicing their concern over how the rubble fill proceedings were conducted.
"(Wilson) believed that the process . . . had been irregular and stated that the process was tainted by undue political influence," Whitfill says.
"It is clear that Council President Wilson, convinced that the decision was wrong and that the process was irregular, set out to rescind the approval," the judge wrote.
In the ruling, Whitfill quotes Risacher as saying in her suit deposition that Cox's "interference" made it impossible for the council to rely on the Department of the Environment for an impartial review of the rubble fill plans.
On Sept. 14, 1989, Cox and Schafer went to the department to discuss the permit process for a rubble fill, department officials have said.
Whitfill also mentions in his ruling Cox's role as the real estate broker in Maryland Reclamation's purchase of the land for the rubble fill.
The judge also notes that Cox acted as a guarantor of the company's loan application and had a verbal option to acquire an interest in the operation once the permit was approved.
Schafer, in his prepared statement, criticized some council members for making the rubble fill a political issue. He did not point to specific members.
The statment said: "I believe there have been times when some members of the County Council have not acted in the best interest of Harford County, rather for selfish, politically-motivated reasons."
Maryland Reclamation's suit was filed three days after the council voted to remove Maryland Reclamation's proposed rubble fill from the county's Solid Waste Management Plan. That decision reversed a vote taken on Nov. 14 that included the rubble fill in the county plan.
The council decided to reject the rubble fill plan after a series of public hearings where citizens strongly criticized the plan, voicing particular concern over the project's effect on water supplies.
In his ruling, Whitfill said the council went beyond its authority by rejecting the rubble fill plan. He said that authority belongs to the environment department.