Maryland Reclamation Agrees To Suit Settlements

March 31, 1991|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff writer

The president of Maryland Reclamation Associates Inc. said his company has agreed to pay a total of $30,000 in an out-of-court settlementto five Webster-area residents who opposed his company's plans for arubble and asbestos dump.

Richard D. Schafer said the agreement calls for the five residents to drop their countersuits against his Churchville-based company, ending a year-long legal battle in Harford Circuit Court.

Schafer announced the settlement in a written statement issued Friday. Kieron F. Quinn, a Baltimore attorney representing four of the residents, has scheduled a press conference at the County Courthouse tomorrow.

The residents said they will wait until the conference before commenting on the settlement.

Schafer said his attorneys several weeks ago approached lawyers representing the residents to beginnegotiations for a settlement. Schafer said he expects the settlement to be filed in Harford Circuit Court by Tuesday.

In his statement, Schafer said the company settled the suits "in an attempt to heal the wounds of the community."

But Schafer said he does not expect "this gesture of good faith would make any significant difference to the residents because of the anti-business attitude of the County Council and its attempt to become something that it is not -- geologists."

Schafer also cited "economic reasons" as one of the factors in his company's seeking the settlement, but said he had no estimate of the cost of legal fees his company spent on the suits.

Maryland Reclamation is seeking a state permit to start an asbestos and rubble dump on a 55-acre site on Gravel Hill Road near Webster in northern Harford County.

Some area residents oppose the rubble fill because they believe it will contaminate and dry up their wells.

In a civilsuit filed March 12, 1990, Maryland Reclamation charged four residents with trespassing, defamation, conspiracy to defraud and intentional interference with contract or business opportunities.

The company sought $2.5 million in damages each from George H. and Winifred Jonas, Sylvia Hutsell and Delores Walke.

Maryland Reclamation sued the four residents the day before the County Council was scheduled to begin hearings about whether the rubble fill should be dropped from the county Solid Waste Management Plan.

The residents filed countersuits against Maryland Reclamation. The Jonases sought $6.7 million indamages, Walke sought $5.5 million and Hutsell asked for $3.3 million.

The residents contended that Maryland Reclamation filed its suit -- known by some as a SLAPP, or strategic lawsuit against public participation -- to silence them.

Maryland Reclamation also sued Brian B. Feeney of Havre de Grace on May 15, 1990, for $3 million because of his statements against the company and its plans for the dump. Feeney asked for $2.2 million in damages in a countersuit filed Jan. 3.

In the settlement, Maryland Reclamation will pay Feeney $6,000,Schafer said. The Jonases, Hutsell and Walke will each receive $8,000, he said.

With the suits settled, Schafer said he plans to focuson efforts to develop an environmentally-safe rubble and asbestos dump at the Gravel Hill site.

Schafer said that the rubble fill willhave an elaborate screening process, including video cameras to monitor incoming waste to keep out hazardous and contaminated material.

Maryland Reclamation would establish an $80,000 escrow account to cover the cost of correcting any problems caused by the rubble fill, Schafer said. This account would be used to correct any contamination of nearby wells.

When the rubble fill is closed, Schafer said, themoney in the account will be donated to the St. James United Methodist Church, which borders the dump site on Gravel Hill Road. The rubble fill is expected to operate for five years, he said.

Maryland Reclamation is in the final review stages with the state Department of the Environment to obtain a permit for the rubble fill.

However, even if the state grants the permit, Maryland Reclamation may not be able to start operations at the site until a suit in the state Court of Special Appeals is settled.

The County Council and seven residents who live near the rubble fill site are asking the state court to overturn a Circuit Court ruling that cleared the way for Maryland Reclamation to seek a state permit. The ruling said the council acted improperly when it rescinded its initial action to include the site in the county Solid Waste Management Plan.

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