The owner of the Granite stump dump that has been burning since Feb. 2 can start receiving stumps again today, according to a Baltimore County official, contrary to a previous Fire Department statement that the dump would first have to comply with several safety recommendations.
Trucks began arriving at the dump today but the loads were covered.
County Administrative Officer Merreen Kelly said yesterday that because the Fire Department has ceased active measures against the fire at the Patapsco Valley Tree Farm, it has effectively returned control to the owner, James Jett.
Neighbors of the dump, who complain of a regular smell of smoke, were flabbergasted at the news. About 10 of them brandished protest signs at the tree farm entrance today and tried to wave off the trucks that approached.
"There's a fire going on and they're adding more fuel to it," said Rosalyn Roddy, a neighbor on Hernwood Road.
But Kelly said that without Fire Department control of the site, the dump returns to its previous status in which the state and county were unable to regulate Jett's business after years of wrangling in court.
"There's nothing we can do to stop him," Kelly said.
That conclusion, which county officials reached last week, overturned assurances that Granite residents had received at a Feb. 11 community meeting about the fire. County Fire Battalion Chief Roy Kemmer had told them then that Jett could not reopen until he lowered his stump piles, cleared buried streams and fulfilled other fire safety recommendations the department made in January.
Asked about Kemmer's statement, Kelly said that county legal advisers probably reached their conclusion afterward about Jett's right to reopen.
The Fire Department estimates that Jett's dump covers about four acres of his 220-acre tree farm in the 8700 block of Dogwood Road in the western county. The piles, as high as 75 feet, consist of stumps and other debris that developers have hauled from construction sites.
The fire has been allowed to smolder in a "free burn" policy that the county adopted last week after a variety of different tactics failed to douse the fire. At this point, the Fire Department can say only that the fire will take "many weeks" to burn out.
Even before the fire started, Jett was awaiting a decision on a county permit to continue operating his business under a new regulatory law.
Since 1985, Jett has prevailed in court over county efforts to regulate his business. The county responded in 1989 with a new law specifically intended to regulate places such as his. Jett has been able to operate since then, however, while the county deliberates on whether to grant him the permit that the new law would require.
Kelly said the county would decide on the permit, "I hope very soon, but I don't have a date."
Anticipating Jett's reopening, however, the county has asked him to abide by certain restrictions.
Kelly said the county has asked Jett to grind new stumps into mulch within 24 hours of receiving them and to start grinding other debris that hasn't caught fire yet. The county has no power to enforce that request, Kelly said.
Jett's lawyer, Michael P. Tanczyn, wouldn't say whether his client would agree to the county's requests. Tanczyn said there would be no comment until the Fire Department completes its investigation of the fire.
County investigators are pursuing the possibility that the fire may have been set.