Sludge-site Bill Attacked By Waste-disposal Firms

March 10, 1991|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

ANNAPOLIS — Waste-disposal company officials say a Carroll delegate's attempt tobring the process of siting sludge storage facilities closer to the people will result in the people telling the companies to stay far away.

"This legislation is the quintessence of 'NIMBY' (Not In My Backyard) legislation," Ira C. Cooke, an attorney representing Bio-Gro Systems Inc. of Dundalk, Baltimore County, told the House Environmental Matters Committee on Thursday.

The bill would require applicants seeking to install, alter or expand a sludge storage facility to submit a written statement demonstrating that the structure conforms to the solid waste plan and all zoning and land-use requirements of the county in which it is to be located.

It also would include sludge storage facilities as a component counties must address in developing solid waste management plans mandated by the state.

Sludge, a solid byproduct of sewage treatmentplants, commonly is spread on agricultural land as a substitute for fertilizer. Sludge must be stored when the ground is too cold or wet to absorb it.

Currently, applicants can receive state permits for storage facilities without obtaining specific county approval. Under the bill, counties could have hearings on permit applications. If approval is granted, an affidavit would be sent to the Maryland Department of the Environment, said Delegate Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard, the bill's sponsor.

"This puts it back where government is closest to the people to make the initial decision," he said. "It's just a more appropriate way of siting sludge-containment structures."

An MDE official supported the bill, saying the agency regulates sludge spreading, but not where facilities should be located and when they should be built.

Cooke says the bill could allow county governments that want to limit their dealings with the sometimes messy issueof sludge storage and disposal to impose artificial restrictions. MDE prefers to dispose of sludge by applying it to land, which means metropolitan-area sewage treatment plants often must find outlets beyond their county or municipal borders.

"You could say, 'We'll only use sludge from Carroll,' " Cooke said. "That's the NIMBY approach."

In essence, the commissioners did just that last October, passing an ordinance that prohibits the storage of sludge except at publicly owned waste-water treatment plants as an accessory use.

The ordinance -- and Elliott's bill -- came in response to a 1988 bureaucratic debacle that angered Taneytown-area residents, who discovered a football-field-sized, 8-foot deep sludge storage facility had been built ona nearby farm without their knowledge. They expressed resentment that sludge would be transported in from urban areas, and concerns aboutodors, effects on property values, inadequate roads for truck traffic and potential water and land contamination.

When they found out that three other similar facilities tentatively were planned by the state for the same area, they hit the roof.

"What happened in Carroll County shouldn't have happened," Cooke said. "But this bill isn't the vehicle to cure the problem. The state should put more teeth intoregulations concerning appropriate siting."

Enviro-Gro Technologies Inc. of Baltimore, which built the Taneytown pit, and the Washington Suburban Sanitation Commission also objected to the bill.

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