In two Western Maryland communities, people are battling efforts to bring in trash from other states that are running out of landfill space -- a fight that state environmental officials have so far refused to join.
Along the Potomac River, in the Frederick County town of Point of Rocks, residents formed a group called Halt Imported Trash (HIT) to protest a proposed recycling business that would take in more than 1,000 tons of trash daily, much of it from other states.
And about 90 miles west, a coalition of local groups is lobbying Allegany County officials against a proposal from a private waste management firm to truck in more than 600,000 tons of trash annually to a landfill in Vale Summit now under construction.
In these communities, opponents of the trash businesses cite similar concerns -- lack of control over imported trash, fears of what will come in and the psychological baggage that goes with being a "trash dump" for other states.
"You have less control over what is being brought in," said HIT member Chuck Holahan. "Sometimes people cut corners, and there is no telling what could be coming in here."
Wayne Spiggle, an Allegany County community activist and one of the organizers of the coalition called CRoWD, Citizens for Responsible Waste Disposal, said many residents have a sense of "pride not to become a place for other people's trash."
Waste management businesses, such as Free State Recycling, the firm seeking the Point of Rocks operation, argue that solutions to dealing with solid waste should not be subject to parochial attitudes.
But fears by residents are shared by environmental officials in other states -- Ohio, West Virginia, Michigan, Indiana -- where laws have been passed to try to halt the stream of long-haul trash coming from metropolitan areas such as New York and New Jersey.
Maryland environmental officials, though, have dismissed such fears in the past and have shown no inclination to follow suit.
"The bottom line is that there are no laws in Maryland that prohibit the importation of out-of-state solid waste, and I don't see that changing any time soon," said Mike Sullivan, spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.
Mr. Sullivan said any such legislation would eventually fall victim to the interstate commerce laws, which according to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, prohibit states from regulating trash crossing state lines.
The issue is now being debated in Congress as part of the reauthorization of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
But outside the halls of Congress, the issue sparks more than debate.
Bringing in trash from other states proved so unpopular in one West Virginia town that the home of the manager of a landfill that planned on accepting imported trash was shot up one night. Last month, the state legislature limited the amount of trash that landfills can accept as a way to combat imported trash.
Allegany County activists have been battling the Chambers Development Corp. of Pittsburgh landfill planned for Vale Summit since the county entered into a contract with the firm several years ago to build and operate a landfill. The contract has an annual cap on waste of 125,000 tons, 50,000 more tons than the county generates a year.
Several public meetings and rallies drew hundreds of protesters against the deal. The three commissioners who made the agreement were voted out of office last year, largely by the anti-landfill vote.
Despite protests that the site was not suitable, the state Department of the Environment approved permits for the landfill.
But that attitude may be shifting somewhat as a result of the Allegany County controversy.
Rick Collins, director of the state hazardous and solid waste management administration, said that as a result of the interest in Congress over the issue and the Allegany County outcry, "we are involved in looking at the impact of out-of-state waste coming in here."
Chambers recently made a proposal to county commissioners to lift the annual waste tonnage cap in return for lower local trash fees and an annual income of more than $1.3 million in fees.
Faced with budget cuts and an economically depressed region, the commissioners elected on an anti-landfill vote are now considering the offer.
"Garbage is garbage," said Commissioner John Stotler. "With the condition that Allegany County is in, I feel that we have to look any place where we have money to keep the tax rate down."
Frederick County Commissioner Ronald Sundergill said a new board of county commissioners elected last year initially told state officials that Free State Recycling Systems, which plans on bringing in trash from other states, sorting it out on the site, removing recyclables and hauling the remainder to a landfill, was not compatible with the county's solid waste plan.