With time running out, city and county leaders -- divided over the proposed expansion of the Annapolis landfill -- are calling in an outside expert to mediate.
"The most critical problem that faces us is the landfill," Annapolis Mayor Alfred Hopkins said Wednesday at a rare meeting of city, county and state officials to discuss Annapolis issues. "It's something that has to be worked on quickly."
On Dec. 19, city and county council members plan to present their separate views of the landfill expansion to the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority, a quasi-public agency which develops and finances waste facilities.
Elected officials want the authority to come up with possible long- and short-term solutions so they can resolve the dispute by the end of January.
The landfill will be full by May 1992, city officials say. Without the expansion, they say they not only will have no place to dump their trash, but will lose $2 million in revenues from tipping fees.
County Councilwoman Maureen Lamb, D-Annapolis, has bitterly opposed an expansion and, in turn, been bitterly opposed by the City Council.
Wednesday's meeting, which she arranged, got off to a rocky start when she said she was willing to explore all options except landfilling.
Eventually, she agreed reluctantly to consider it.
"We're very excited because this is the first time -- and I give Councilwoman Lamb credit -- that they're saying, 'Throw the landfill on the table,' " said Michael Mallinoff, city administrator. "It shows cooperation."
Both sides pledged to clear the slate of prior preferences when they meet with the Waste Authority next week.
Lamb, who believes the existing 89-acre landfill along Route 450 threatens residential wells and nearby creeks, supports a recycling or composting plant on the landfill site. In October, she and her County Council colleagues proposed a privately financed recycling plant to be built on the expansion site, with the builder paying the city a $1 million franchise fee up front.
The city rejected the idea, saying there is no way to ensure that such a facility would generate the amount of revenue now created by the landfill.
The city's preference at this point would be to put both a landfill and a recycling plant on the site, Mallinoff said. The cost of operating the recycling plant would be offset by landfill revenues, he said.
The city's original request -- and one which Hopkins said he'd still like the county to consider -- involved changing county zoning law to allow the 79-acre expansion, 21 acres of which would actually be filled. The county Board of Appeals denied that request last spring, and Lamb has refused to introduce legislation to change the law.
City officials say the expansion would last for only another 7 to 10 years. Some of Lamb's ideas regarding composting and recycling make more sense as a long-term solution, to be used after an expanded landfill closes, they say.
Even then, Hopkins said, "There will always be a need for landfills."
The suggestion to bring in the waste authority as an arbitrator came from Sen. Gerald Winegrad, D-Annapolis. "They have handled much stickier issues than this," he said.
County Executive Robert R. Neall, who attended Wednesday's meeting, urged city and county officials to write their own "word problem" describing the landfill situation, including specifics such as cost, needed revenues and the amount of waste. Then, based on those descriptions, the Waste Authority would devise possible long- and short-term solutions -- including where to dump trash between the time the existing landfill closes and either a new landfill or recycling plant opens.
City and county officials would meet again, possibly in January, to make a final decision.
"We need to resolve this in the month of January, period," Mallinoff said.
Wednesday's meeting marked the first formal discussion between Lamb and the City Council in months. Though the meeting had its tense moments, city officials said they were encouraged that a new era of cooperation between city and county has begun.
"(Neall) is only the second county executive I've felt really looked upon Annapolis as part of the county family," said Hopkins, who said Annapolis has been fighting for its rights ever since the first Annapolis executive, Joseph Alton, left office more than 15 years ago.
Neall promised to comply with Hopkins' request for an ombudsman in the executive's office to deal with city concerns -- a request that apparently offended Lamb.
"I thought that was my job," she said.
After the meeting, Hopkins said his request had nothing to do with the fact that the city's relationship with the councilwoman has been strained.
"If there's a county council problem, we know to go to her," he said. "I think she misunderstood."