Activism Takes Root In Rural Union Bridge

Rhuba Springs Up To Prevent Burning Of Hazardous Wastes

October 20, 1991|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff writer

RHUBA. The name sounds like a new twist on an old dance.

But it'sreally another version of a proven pursuit: Citizens uniting to protect their turf.

Residents for a Healthier Union Bridge Area formed in January to protest the burning of certain wastes at the Lehigh Portland Cement Co.

Warren C. and Thelma S. Shirey, who live less than a mile from Lehigh on a farm where they raise Clydesdales, chuckle that some people have pegged them as activists since they've become involved with the group.

The couple moved to the area in 1965 to escape encroaching development in Prince George's County. She's 55; he's 59. Like others who have chosen this rural area, they live quiet lives.

They knew about the cement plant when they bought the land -- they have a clear view of it from their front yard -- but they didn't bargain for Lehigh to want to burn wastes that could be hazardous. They got involved with RHUBA to try to stop it.

"I am conservative," Warren Shirey said. "I am a far right person. But now they say I'm an activist."

Rudolph Medicus, 44, and Emil H. White, 65, both scientists and part-time farmers who live outside town, have become friends since they met through the group.

Medicus is a biomedical researcher who works in his home. White is a chemistry professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Both have lent their professional expertise to RHUBA.

Kent H. and Deborah M. Doxzon, both 39, bought a 10-acre farm outside Union Bridge four years ago because they liked the rural character of the area. They're not new to citizen activism -- they've been vocal in fighting a 171-acre housing development planned north ofUnion Bridge.

He is a high school teacher; she used to teach but now stays home with the couple's two children.

Because of the Doxzons' involvement, Julian S. Stein Jr. called the couple when he was trying to get a citizens group started. The 72-year-old semiretired Washington public relations executive has used his knowledge of government and attention-getting methods to boost the group's effectiveness.

About 100 people have paid dues to join RHUBA; about a dozen of those make up the core group, Stein said. Members want to protect their environment and property values.

"Our group is a good cross-section," Deborah Doxzon said. "We're not 10 people with the same mind. It keeps us in check."

The group sprang into action when a hearing date was set by the state Department of the Environment to discuss Lehigh's proposal to burn carbon waste from a plant in New Jersey. The group hired a lawyer, presented testimony and began researching CIBA-GEIGY, the company that was to supply Lehigh with the waste, and Patchem Inc., the middleman that would bring the waste to Lehigh.

RHUBA found that the carbon would come from a Superfund cleanup site at CIBA-GEIGY in Toms River, N.J., and that the former chairman of Patchem's parent company had served time in jail for conspiring to illegally dump chemical wastes in a New Jersey landfill.

The group took out newspaper ads, brought in a national expert to speak on waste burning, collected 600 signatures on a petition they sent to the governor and got the Sierra Club interested in the issue.

Deanna Hofmann, chairwoman of the Sierra Club's Catoctin Chapter, said the group is interested in helping RHUBA network with other environmental organizations.

"The issue has far-reaching implications across the state, not just in Carroll County or Union Bridge," she said.

In June, the state refused to allow Lehigh to burn the carbon waste. George P. Ferreri, director of the Air Management Administration, said informationpresented by the citizens played a part in the decision. Lehigh has appealed.

Most RHUBA members don't have a connection to Lehigh, but the group talks with a handful of plant employees who keep them informed about what's going on in the company, Kent Doxzon said.

Stein and the others vehemently deny they want to shut down Lehigh.

"We don't want to hurt anybody's livelihood," he said.

Deborah Doxzon said RHUBA is "here to stay, and we want Union Bridge to be the best it can be."

Stein said many residents "didn't realize on the emissions issue that they didn't have to live with it (dust). People saythey didn't know there were things they could do about it."

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