Judge rules stump dump must close Baltimore County owner in contempt

August 02, 1991|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

The owner of the long-smoldering stump dump in Granite was found in contempt of court yesterday by a Baltimore County Circuit judge who ordered the controversial dump shut down until part of it is cleared.

The order came after its owner, James F. Jett, was found in contempt of a May 30 court order by Judge James T. Smith Jr.

The stump dump and tree farm in the 8700 block of Dogwood Road in western Baltimore County has been smoldering and belching smoke since Feb. 2, prompting a strong community protest. After several failed attempts to extinguish the fire, the county decided to let it burn itself out.

The judge told Mr. Jett yesterday that the dump may not accept any new material.

Mr. Jett made no comment. His lawyer, Michael P. Tanczyn, said the latest ruling, which followed two days of hearings, would make it difficult for his client to obtain a bank loan he needs to buy heavy equipment for the cleanup.

The May 30 ruling by Judge Smith had stipulated that Mr. Jett by June 2 limit the height of any new stump piles on his property to 12 feet, maintain a 100-foot cleared area between new stumps brought to the dump and the burning material, and properly dispose of certain debris that was not on fire.

Mr. Jett violated that order by allowing the height of new piles to exceed 12 feet, the judge said. Mr. Jett also failed to dispose of the debris in the manner and within the time that was specified at the May 30 hearing, Judge Smith said.

The debris should have been ground up, according to the order. Instead, some of it was dug up and moved to a new area of the property and -- after it had cooled -- was reburied, according to testimony during the hearing conducted in Towson Tuesday and yesterday.

County fire officials testified that the property was in much better condition than it had been at the time of the May 30 hearing, but they said the reburied debris could lead to additional hazardous smoldering.

The judge said he was persuaded not only by the fire officials' testimony but by the occurrence of two additional fires at the dump July 2 and July 7. "Clearly this site still poses, as it did at the time of the prior hearing, a significant safety risk," he said.

During his testimony, Mr. Jett said he was a victim of the "damned if you do, damned if you don't" syndrome.

He said his request to meet with county officials had been ignored. "I want to get this fire out," he testified.

On his way out of the courtroom after the ruling, Mr. Jett implied that he has been unfairly treated by the press. His lawyer referred to The Sun as "the morning fish-wrap" in his closing arguments and insisted his client has fully cooperated with county officials.

"The only consistent effort to put this fire out has been Mr. Jett's," Mr. Tanczyn said.

The judge also appeared less than happy with county officials. "I am not impressed by the way Baltimore County has handled this entire matter," he said.

"Mixed signals" were given Mr.Jett by various county employees, the judge said.

As part of his ruling, Judge Smith ordered the county to cooperate with Mr. Jett.

County attorney H. Emslie Parks said he was pleased with the judge's decision. "The judge did exactly what we asked him to do," he said. "I am extremely pleased.

Tom DeMay, president of the Greater Patapsco Community Asso

ciation, said he was delighted with the outcome.

"This has been a victory for the citizens," he said, agreeing with the judge that county officials could have done more. "The county has been lax," Mr. DeMay said.

Delegate Lawrence A. LaMotte D-5B, a Granite resident, said, "I'm absolutely ecstatic that Judge Smith could see through Mr. Jett's case and has found him in contempt. "

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