The Harford County Council seems to be trying to kill a controversial landfill project with legislation, but won't admit it.
The council held a public hearing last night on a bill that would establish zoning restrictions for rubble landfills, which accept discarded tree stumps, broken concrete and other construction debris.
Most of the more than 200 people who attended the hearing indicated support for the bill. But local contractors, builders and others said they opposed the measure, because it would prevent any more rubble landfills from being established and would force them to haul the waste elsewhere at high cost.
The bill is sponsored by all seven council members. Its obvious target would seem to be the proposed Gravel Hill rubble landfill near Havre de Grace, although council members claim otherwise.
When asked whether the bill does, in fact, target the Gravel Hill project, Councilman Robert Wagner, R-District E, said it "shouldn't be seen that way."
But James D. Vannoy, a council aide who drafted the bill, said he was told it should be emergency legislation so it could take effect upon passage and be on the books before state environmental officials grant a permit for Gravel Hill.
Council members say they will wait at least until next week to act on the bill, partly because County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann wants to propose amendments. She has expressed concerns that the bill would not hold up to a legal challenge.
The bill would also affect another rubble landfill planned on Fort Hoyle Road in Joppa. Among other things, it would require landfill sites to be at least 100 acres.
The Gravel Hill site is 55 acres. The Fort Hoyle Road site is 79 acres.
Other provisions call for fencing and screening; no waste to be buried within 1,000 feet of residential, institutional or industrial buildings; restrictions on the height of landfills; and provisions for cleaning the wheels of trucks depositing waste.
The bill also calls for operators to show a need for a landfill in the area where it would be located and that there be no "negative" effects on the environment.
The Gravel Hill site has been the subject of controversy for nearly two years, mainly because residents around the site fear it would affect the water table and lower property values. The controversy helped unseat two local politicians last fall: then-County Councilman John W. Schafer, whose son, Richard D. Schafer, is president of the company organizing the project, and then-Del. William H. Cox Jr., who backed a loan for the younger Schafer's company and was accused of trying to persuade state officials to sanction the project.
Richard Schafer's company, Maryland Reclamation Associates, originally received council approval. Several months later, the council reversed its decision. Maryland Reclamation sued in Harford County Circuit Court and won. The council has appealed the case to the state Court of Special Appeals.
Richard Schafer, who attended last night's hearing, declined comment on the bill, citing the pending litigation.