MANCHESTER — A seemingly mundane pile of twigs and leaves has turned into one of the hottest debates to rock the Town Council in more than a year.
More than 100 feet wide and several feet high, this town's unofficialbrush dump behind a hill on Water Street had for years sat tucked away and unnoticed.
For years, the pile had served as a de facto town composting heap, giving residents a place to put their yard waste instead of in the county landfill.
That was until a month ago, when Councilman John A. Riley and Mayor Earl A. J. "Tim" Warehime Jr. noticed a rapid increase in the amount of brush being dumped on the pile.
It was during a council meeting two weeks ago that Riley implored colleagues to seal off the dump, citing concerns that brush and twigs and leaves were not the only debris being thrown into the pile.
Riley is concerned that some residents may have thrown potentially hazardous materials into the pile, possibly endangering two nearby springs that providethe town with drinking water.
Four members of the council voted to close the pile indefinitely; Geoff Black voted against closure.
Where Riley and the rest of council see the closure as preventing thecreation of a junk pile, Black sees it as a blow to town recycling efforts.
"There were several purposes to the pile," he said last week. "One was to make available to the town residents a place to throwaway their brush and save the town money on tipping fees or other charges they would have to pay to have their trash hauler pick it up.
"But the altruistic reason is it helped us remove this stuff from the solid waste stream," he said.
Yard waste accounts for a large portion of the solid waste in the summer and fall months. And with landfill space in the county disappearing, recycling efforts throughout Carroll aim to reduce the amount of brush that makes its way to the landfill.
Absent any proof that hazardous waste exists on the site,the town should keep the brush pile open, Black said.
"Unless there is a health or safety hazard, I don't want to do anything to dissuade anyone in town from having the mind-set to recycle," he said.
The Town Council has debated the closing of the brush dump for more than a month. And while Black maintains that the disagreement with hiscolleagues is an aberration, he does think the council is making a mistake.
The town is looking at ways to reopen the brush pile. An attempt to get a county permit to burn it away was turned down, and renting a chipper to turn the brush into mulch is more expensive than having it hauled away to the county landfill.
A chipper would cost at least $600 a day to rent. For $600, the town could dump 40 tons ofbrush into the county landfill.
Informal recycling program or not, use of the pile had been on the increase in recent months.
"Thisspring, the use of the pile just bloomed," said David M. Warner, thetown's projects administrator and a former councilman. "Maybe a lot of people are considering it a way to recycle and save money."
He said the town is working on several options, including having the pile open several days a week, when a town employee can inspect what goes into it.
Riley echoes that concern. During the most recent council debate over the issue, he handed Black a memo and asked him to read it. The memo outlined Riley's reasons for closing the brush dump, and Black was visibly surprised at what he was reading.
The memo, among other things, warned that unchecked dumping on the brush pile could damage the town's water supply and that the pile could one day end up a junkyard.