Citizens' Action Led To Rubble Fill Reversal

December 30, 1990|By Daniel P. Clemens Jr. | Daniel P. Clemens Jr.,Contributing writer

It seemed a small matter when notices announcing a plan for a new rubble and asbestos dump near the Gravel Hill community landed in the mailboxes of area residents in November 1989.

But news of the proposal ignited a battle between residents and the developer that produced dozens of caustic public meetings, criticism of actions by local government and politicians, and lawsuits seeking millions of dollars in damages.

At the eye of the storm over the 55-acre rubble fill stood a group of residents who simply were worried about the effect of the dump on their homes and water supplies, but who knew little about how to have a say in governmental decisions affecting their neighborhood.

Eventually, the residents formed Concerned Citizens of Eastern Harford County. Relying on little more than their own toil and perseverance, and operating in the face of formidable opposition, the residents insisted that their concerns be addressed and forced the matter to be reconsidered by county officials.

The Harford County Sun is recognizing the group, whose members mobilized from concern for their neighborhood and quality of life, for its diligent efforts, which succeeded in prompting the County Council and other government officials and residents to take a second and more thorough look at a serious and highly complex issue.

"This never was a 'not-in-my-backyard' thing," said Delores Walke, a Chapel Road resident and leader of the citizens' group.

"We just wanted to maintain the quality of life we've had here all these years. We knew we couldn't do that with our water being threatened," she said.

After little debate or information gathering, the County Council issued a hasty approval in November 1989 for the Maryland Reclamation Associates Inc.'s rubble fill project, allowing the company to proceed with the acquisition of required state permits.

However, the persistent outcry from area residents over the potential environmental effects of the rubble and asbestos dump caused the council to have a change of heart. The council reopened the affair last spring and conducted a series of hearings.

The exhaustive, sometimes combative hearings seemed to create more confusion than they settled. But enough questions were raised in the minds of council members to prompt them to reverse their earlier decision and remove the rubble fill proposal proposal from the county's solid waste plan.

Defamation suits against four residents -- including Walke -- were filed by Maryland Reclamation. Counter-suits from the residents followed.

All the while, members of the citizens group persistently urged government administrators to properly address the issue of whether the project was appropriate for the site. Core members spent hours knocking on doors, collecting money to defray legal expenses, and researching more information about rubble dumps, asbestos and the potential environmental effects.

During the busiest stretches, some members were putting in up to 30 hours a week on the question, in addition to working full-time jobs and raising families.

"People would say, 'You're fighting big money and big politics, you can forget it,' " Walke said. "At times we were not just daunted, but fearful, too. You would wonder, 'Just who are we dealing with?' "

"We never had any idea when it began that it would ever come to this," Walke said. "We'd never heard of a rubble fill before. We didn't even know what one was."

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