For a decade, people who lived around the Patapsco Valley Tree Farm complained. Too many trucks. Too much noise. Too much busy-ness. But these were symptoms of a bigger problem -- that the "stump dump," which receives tree stumps, grinds them into mulch and sells Christmas trees as well, has slipped through regulatory loopholes since its inception.
Both the state and the county have rules for landfills, but the stump dump didn't qualify. Then came the fire last February, which called statewide attention to the problem as area back yards filled with smoke, soot covered cars and residents only PTC half-joked when they referred to their neighborhood as Maryland's own Kuwait City. The problem has abated, but residents continue to live with the stench of smoldering wood when the air is humid.
The county did, finally, pass legislation to regulate businesses // like James Jett's stump dump. But with it came another loophole: Jett has to get a permit before his business is subject to the regulations. And Jett is currently contesting the conditions required for permitting. As such, the county's regulatory power is, at present, pretty meager. Nonetheless, weeks after the fire began, the county allowed Jett to accept trees again -- on conditions spelled out by the fire department. But the county attorney now says that Jett hasn't abided by them -- that he has been dumping up to 60 truckloads of stumps a day on his site, and some of it on piles that are still burning. These allegations gave the county attorney the power to ask for a court order to shut the dump down and to bring criminal charges against Jett.
Ironically, it was county permission to resume operations, which many residents viewed as undue leniency toward Jett, that in the end turned out to be the only way to give local government a measure of control. It's about time.