As a mountain of tree stumps in western Baltimore County continues to burn, lawmakers in Harford County are contemplating a bill that would require owners of similar operations to pay at least some of the high cost of fighting such fires.
Harford County Councilwoman Joanne S. Parrott says she plans to introduce a proposal within about a month. The bill would be drafted as emergency legislation, she says, meaning it would take effect when it is approved.
"Rubble" landfills containing discarded stumps, broken concrete and other construction debris have been a source of much political strife in Harford.
A large infestation of cockroaches was discovered at a landfill near Joppa last year, and some of the bugs began migrating to nearby neighborhoods. Residents are fighting another landfill proposed at a nearby site. A plan to operate another rubble landfill near Havre de Grace is tied up in a court battle involving the County Council.
Parrott, R-District B, says she started working on such a bill in response to the difficulties Baltimore County firefighters had in trying to extinguish the fire at Patapsco Valley Farms in Granite.
The cost of fighting that blaze, which has been burning since Feb. 2, will exceed $100,000, Baltimore County officials say. That includes the cost of special foam used in an unsuccessful attempt to put out the fire and the rental of earth-moving equipment.
Baltimore County fire officials have decided to allow the stump fire to burn itself out -- which may take many weeks and require constant monitoring.
Also, fire officials have said they will not force the owner of the dump, James Jett, to pay the costs of fighting the fire. Victims of fires at homes or businesses do not pay such costs, they say.
Although the fire remains under investigation, officials say they suspect it was the work of an arsonist.
Parrott, formerly on the board of directors of the Fallston Volunteer Fire Company, says she would co-sponsor the bill with Councilman Barry Glassman, R-District D, who is a member of the Level Volunteer Fire Company. Such legislation is important for Harford, Parrott says, because the county has an all-volunteer fire and rescue service with limited access to sophisticated equipment and limited money to pay for it.
The Harford council is considering another bill that would place a variety of restrictions on the operation of rubble landfills.
Baltimore County passed new regulations in 1989 affecting "recycling" operations such as Jett's. He said he was stockpiling tree stumps for processing into mulch. County officials said they expect to decide soon whether to grant Jett a permit to continue his operation. Such a permit would carry a number of restrictions, including limits on the height of the stump piles and provisions for preventing or limiting fires, says Eugene G. Siewierski, a county waste-management official.
Carroll County does not allow private landfills, so similar fires are not an issue, says James E. Slater Jr., county director of natural resources protection. Slater says the dumping of stumps also is prohibited at county-operated sites.