Dumping Is Messy Problem

Unlawful Trashing Could Be Rampant

March 20, 1991|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff writer

A Carroll resident has accumulated a 10-foot-high pile of garbage that could be an illegal dump, but county officials say they may not beable to do much about it unless the landowner has violated zoning ordinances.

Although dumping violates federal and state water pollution laws, small problems don't get much attention from the large agencies that enforce them, said James E. Slater Jr., director of the county Department of Natural Resource Protection.

"That's why it's important for local governments to establish a way to deal with these things," Slater said. "I would like to get a system of citations set up for this."

The dump, found in February and still under investigation, is unusual because it's larger than most found in Carroll, Slater said.

He is working on anti-pollution ordinances he will propose to the County Commissioners in the next fewmonths. He said the ordinances would include ways of making violators clean up dumps or face fines.

Slater would not reveal the site of the pile found in February or the landowner's name because the caseis under investigation.

The pile was found by an inspector responding to a complaint that the landowner was violating grading regulations. The inspector didn't find grading violations but did find the dump, Slater said.

If investigators prove the landowner took in garbage from others, he or she would be guilty of violating zoning ordinances, said Solveig Smith, the county's zoning administrator. Landfills require industrial zoning and permits, neither of which the landowner has, Slater said.

Carroll has had only two such zoning and permit violations in the last 10 years or so, said Charles Zeleski, assistant director of the Bureau of Environmental Health in the county Health Department. Those people took in others' garbage for money or to fill uneven land on their property, he said.

Even if the landowners are burying or piling their own garbage, Zeleski's bureau can forcea clean-up through court action or through the state Department of the Environment. But a citizen or agency must first file a complaint, and the bureau has to prove the dump is a health hazard based on its potential to pollute drinking water, blow garbage onto other propertyor attract rodents, Zeleski said.

Slater said any dumping can pollute when rain washes through the rust, chemicals or other componentsof the garbage into ground water or streams.

One survey shows Carroll could have numerous small water-polluting dumps, from lawn debris clogging streams to a refrigerator lying in the woods to several square feet of assorted garbage or construction debris.

In the spring of 1989, Catherine Rappe, chief of the county Bureau of Water Resource Protection, walked 37 miles of the streams that feed Piney Run Lake in Eldersburg. The stream walk was in preparation for using the lake as drinking water in a few years.

Although Rappe sent letters to all the landowners along the route notifying them of her walk, shefound 31 of what she called illegal dumps along the streams.

She took photographs and marked the dumps on a geological map but has notreported all of them to the state, she said this week.

She plans first to try to have the county work with the landowners to clean up the dumps voluntarily. But with an understaffed office, she has not had time, she said.

Some of the debris posed a serious threat, suchas empty metal pesticide containers dumped on a farm off White Rock Road, less than 50 feet from a Piney Run tributary, she said. Tires and old appliances were discarded along that and other nearby streams,she said.

It costs $4 for a Carroll resident to dump a pickup truck full of garbage at one of the two county landfills. Some Carroll cities and towns provide free pick-up of large items, such as appliances, but the county doesn't.

Many people won't go to the county landfill on principle because they grew dumping on their own land, Rappesaid.

Smith said zoning laws don't prohibit people from burying or dumping their trash on their own property in residential or agricultural zones.

Kitchen and household waste might not be a health hazard, Zeleski said.

Rappe said it's hard to prove a dump is polluting water, even if laws are in place for the county to enforce. But she agreed with Slater that regional laws would be more effective than sending all violations to the state.

A county hiring freeze has left her bureau with only two of the four staff members she is supposedto have. State and federal agencies also have sustained budget and personnel cuts, she said, and testing is expensive and time-consuming.

"The best way is to try to educate people to use preventive measures," Rappe said.

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