Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker is considering a major expansion of the Alpha Ridge landfill in Marriottsville.
Ecker says he has ordered Department of Public Works officials to explore an expansion that would lengthen the useful life of the landfill by 10 years. If the move is deemed feasible, he says, the county could obtain enough space by purchasing nearby farmland.
He says it could be easier to expand the county's only landfill, which is expected to reach capacity in 10 to 12 years, than to find a new site.
"Siting a landfill is very difficult," Ecker says.
During his successful election campaign last year, Ecker said that one priority of his administration would be to find a site to replace the Alpha Ridge landfill. Although the existing facility will last for at least another decade, he said he wanted to begin the search early.
"We don't want it to get to a sense of urgency," Ecker says. "We don't want to end up putting stuff on a train or truck and looking for a place to dump it."
James Irvin, the county's public works director, says it normally takes about five years of planning before a landfill can begin taking refuse. He also says he is concerned that other potential sites are being targeted for development.
"There's not a lot of land left in Howard County that is available for facilities," Irvin says. "The longer you wait, the more critical it becomes. Your choices diminish."
Irvin says the expansion of Alpha Ridge would require less space than a new site. The existing landfill is on 590 acres, but only 190 acres are used for dumping. The remaining 400 acres provide buffer space.
Irvin says a new 20-year landfill could require far more land than the 100 to 200 acres necessary to extend the life of Alpha Ridge.
Until recently, Howard was negotiating with Frederick, Washington and Carroll counties on a plan to build a regional landfill. Those negotiations ended without an agreement last winter.
Irvin says the county may seek another regional plan and is exploring the possible development of a regional trash-to-energy facility.
Also, he says, the county is trying to prolong the life of its landfill by reducing the amount of waste that winds up there. The slumping economy has helped lately. The landfill usually collects about 250,000 tons of trash a year but tonnage fell to about 200,000 in 1990 with a drop in waste from construction sites and retail outlets, he says.
The county is hoping that recycling also will reduce waste. Linda Fields, the county's recycling manager, says the county is gear
ing up for a major expansion of its curbside recycling program, which will add 16,000 households to the 12,000 now served.