The County Council has decided not to appeal a county circuit judge's ruling that cleared the way for the owners of a proposed asbestos and rubble fill to seek state approval for the project.
The council deadlocked in a 3-3 tie vote Tuesday on a motion to appeal the judge's decision. The tie vote on the seven-member council, which occurred because one council member abstained, killed the motion.
Maryland Reclamation Associates Inc. of Churchville is now free to seek a permit from the state Department of the Environment for the asbestos and rubble fill. The project is targeted for a 55-acre tract in Gravel Hill near Havre de Grace.
Circuit Judge Cypert O. Whitfill's ruling and the council's vote Tuesday angered citizens who have been fighting the proposed rubble fill.
Ronald L. Bishop, a leader of Concerned Citizens About Gravel Hill Rubble Fill, told the council after the vote: "I hope God is in this plan, because we need salvation. The devil is in this plan and is moving across this council. For the bureaucracy to devour people is disgraceful. I'm not pleased, and I surely believe God is not pleased.
"It's a very disappointing thing for the council not to support the people," said Bishop, a staunch opponent of the project. "(The vote) makes people feel very bad about the judicial system and our local government."
Patricia K. Nimmerrichter, an Upper Marlboro lawyer representing a group of seven citizens opposed to the project, said last week the group plans to file its own appeal of the judge's ruling.
The group will also ask the county Board of Ethics to review whether District C Councilman John D. Schafer should have cast a vote on the motion. He voted against seeking an appeal to Judge Whitfill's ruling.
Schafer's son, Richard, is president of Maryland Reclamation.
The state Department of Environment will start reviewing Maryland Reclamation's plan again as soon as the county informs state officials that the rubble fill is back in the county Solid Waste Management plan, said department spokesman John Goheen.
Goheen said the department is not sure what effect a citizens' court appeal would have on its review of the project, saying that is a legal question that will have to be answered by the courts.
Maryland Reclamation must still submit engineering plans for the project and go through a public hearing on its plan before the state decides whether to issue a permit.
Bishop said he and other Gravel Hill residents opposed to the rubble fill will continue fighting Maryland Reclamation's plans.
"We will be pursuing it," said Bishop, of Havre de Grace. "We plan to continue following through with this."
The council's vote Tuesday outraged some in a group of about 30 citizens who sat through the 5 -hour council meeting waiting for the vote on the motion to appeal made by Council President Jeffrey Wilson.
Magnolia resident Robert D. Dillon, president of the Community Coalition of Harford County, a group monitoring growth issues in the county, gave an emotion-charged speech after the council voted not to appeal Whitfill's ruling.
"My understanding is that we elect each and every one of you council members up there to protect the quality of life," said Dillon. "The citizens are going to have to front their own appeals now, and it's going to be a terrible burden. I am really disappointed. Those negative votes have diminished your power. I just can't believe this."
Before voting on the issue, the council reviewed a letter from attorneys hired to defend the county and council when Maryland Reclamation sued the council for reversing its decision to include the rubble fill in the Solid Waste Management plan.
The letter, from James R. Eyler and Kara M. Miller, of the firm of Miles and Stockbridge, said, "It is our assessment that the council's chances for victory are no less than 50 percent and that they could be as high as 70 percent."
Joanne S. Parrott, R-District B; Barbara A. Risacher, D-District A; and Council President Wilson voted in favor of the appeal.
Schafer, G. Edward Fielder, D-District E, and Frederick J. Hatem, D-District F, voted against the appeal.
Councilman J. Robert Hooper, D-District D, abstained from voting. The county ethics board has advised him that his voting on the issue might be seen as a conflict of interest because he is in the trash-hauling business.
Schafer, who lost his council seat in the September primary to Theresa Pierno, abstained on two previous votes concerning the rubble fill.
The councilman said he decided to vote Tuesday in an effort to prevent the county from spending more money.
"The judge, in his opinion, said the Department of the Environment has to hold public hearings," said Schafer before casting his vote. "And we've already spent $50,000 of our money on the appeal process, so I vote 'No.' " The appeal was expected to cost the county about $10,000, Parrott said.
Lester H. Feinberg, the council attorney, said he advised Schafer in November 1989 that the councilman could vote on rubble fill-related issues without violating the state ethics law. Feinberg said the law applies only to spouses and dependent children.
Nimmerrichter and Bishop said they were surprised that Hatem voted against the appeal, considering that he was one of the council members who voted in May to remove the project from the county's Solid Waste Management Plan.
Hatem said later that he voted against the appeal to get the rubble fill issue out of the political arena and into the proper review process by the state environment department.
The controversy over the rubble fill began last November, when the council included the project in the Solid Waste Management Plan. However, on May 7, the council reversed its decision. Maryland Reclamation filed suit on May 11, asking the court to nullify the council's decision.