The owner of a burning stump dump in Granite may be on the verge of getting a permit to continue receiving stumps and construction debris, but under new and strict standards imposed by Baltimore County.
Of the four county agencies that must sign off on the permit application, two -- Public Works and Planning and Zoning -- have done so, Eugene Freeman, chief of licensing and regulation, said yesterday.
Of the other two agencies, the Department of Environmental Protection is fine-tuning the conditions it would impose on the permit and the fire department says it is still reviewing the application.
Unless the fire department objects, "there will be a lot of conditions on the permit, but there will be a permit," said Eugene Siewierski, director of Environmental Protection.
Neighbors from the Greater Patapsco Community Association, which for some time has monitored the dump and warned of its dangers, picketed the county office building in Towson yesterday before meeting with officials. Some pickets wore surgical masks to protest the smoke that periodically rolls by their homes, depending on the wind and weather. Some complained of respiratory problems being aggravated by the smoke.
The four-acre stump dump is part of the 220-acre Patapsco Valley Farms, owned by Christmas tree farmer James Jett in the southwest county. The dump has burned since Feb. 2.
After traditional firefighting methods and a special foam application failed to extinguish the fire, the county decided to let the blaze burn itself out, a process that could take months. Once active firefighting measures ceased, Jett was able to reopen for business last week, receiving stumps and debris in a place set apart from the fire.
The county had tried, but failed in court to regulate Jett. But under a regulatory statute passed in 1989, Jett is applying for a permit to operate as a recycling facility that must comply with a variety of environmental and safety standards. Jett is awaiting a decision on his application.
County officials, who met with sign-toting Granite residents, said the decision would come sometime next week. On Thursday, county officials will confer with the state fire marshal to see whether the dump is in violation of state fire codes.
County Administrative Officer Merreen Kelly tried to assure residents that the permit process would be the best way to regulate Jett.
Community association leaders seemed to be willing to hold out hope for the new permit standards to take hold and for a newly elected county administration that would enforce it. But after years of complaining to state and local authorities, they also were skeptical.
"The critical question is how great is the commitment to enforce and enforce to the letter," said Kathleen Skullney, a former president of the community association.
Siewierski said his agency soon would sign off on a permit, but with several conditions, including the lowering of stump piles, some of which firefighters have estimated as reaching 75 feet or more. Jett would also have to grind the stumps into mulch as they arrive to prevent any expansion of the pile, he said.
Some of these conditions would have to be fulfilled within weeks, Siewierski said, while others, such as reducing the overall size of the stockpile, could be satisfied within years.
If a permit is granted, the county also would require Jett to post a performance bond, ranging anywhere from $3.6 million to $11.2 million, Siewierski said, to reimburse future county expenses for cleaning up any further problems at the site.
Siewierski's agency has just completed a survey of the dump for estimating that bond. And while his staff assessed the site last week, he said, they saw that fresh loads of stumps were being ground into mulch before they could accumulate.