Trash and Politics in Arundel

November 24, 1990

Anne Arundel County has come up with a waste recycling sharing plan that might solve Annapolis' looming solid waste problem. The county council is floating the idea of a privately financed recycling center next to the city landfill. Annapolis would get a $1 million franchise fee from the company chosen to build and operate the facility, and could levy a surcharge on tipping fees.

Details need to be ironed out, but on balance, the proposal looks like a step in the right direction.

So why is Annapolis playing hard to get? Since the plan was advanced in July, the office of Mayor Alfred Hopkins has come up with a litany of reasons why it won't work. To bolster its case, the city government has trotted out numbers detailing the economic devastation resulting from losing $2 million in tipping fees -- this despite the franchise fee and surcharges. After touring a few centers in Florida and Delaware and talking with a few experts, Annapolis officials have deemed the plan technically unworkable.

The real issue isn't trash, but control. Anne Arundel County and Annapolis, the city within its borders, have been at it for years. Annapolis, perhaps rightly, sees the trash issue as a lightning rod for a much bigger question -- its right to survive as a municipality. Running the landfill not only allows Annapolis to dispose of its own waste, but adds to its revenue base, subsidizing such endeavors as its transportation system.

There are loud grumblings in city government that the recycling plan is the first step in stripping Annapolis of its municipal status. Both sides are leveling charges of political opportunism: the city says the county is trying to appeal to voters in an election year. The county accuses the city of stalling in hopes that the elections will usher in a more receptive county executive and council.

There's probably more than a little truth to both arguments. The mayor's office admits that the city still wants to expand its landfill -- even though that option has been legally foreclosed by the county Board of Appeals. Mr. Hopkins apparently thinks new faces in Arundel Center will amend existing laws.

Yet Annapolitans should not lose sight of the fact that their leaders so far have failed to resolve the city's refuse crisis. The Annapolis landfill is straining toward capacity, a point it will reach next May. That doesn't leave a lot of time to decide upon and begin work on an alternative. The county's plan may not be what the city had in mind, but it is a viable starting point. It deserves real, not perfunctory, consideration.

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