A Farm Or A Landfill? 8-year Battle Rages

January 12, 1992|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff writer

Robert E. Gertz has this notion about starting a horse farm and living his life among his children and grandchildren in the green pastures of Crownsville. The trouble is, the county says his plan is illegal.

Gertz says he's farming now, always has been farming and always will be. The county has another idea, that Gertz is operating a landfill and needs a license to do it.

Gertz and the county have been at odds over this issue in one form or another for more than eight years. They have logged hours of lawyers' time and accumulated a pile of legal paperwork thick as a Baltimore phone book.

The dispute has grown ugly at times, as each sidehas accused the other of strong-arm tactics.

Gertz says the county threatened his family by having his property inspected in February 1990 from a helicopter that hovered low enough over a house to rattlethe dishes. The county later accused Gertz of threatening an inspector with a rifle. Gertz denies this, saying the inspector just happened to show up one morning when he was hunting on his property.

Gertz, who said he's spent about $70,000 on legal bills, has filed a $250,000 damages claim against the county. He argues that because he cannot continue to improve his land, his farm has been damaged by erosion, the erosion he was trying to control by filling gullies with stumps, brush and dirt. That work, says the county, cannot be done without a landfill license as required under an ordinance adopted in April 1990.

Gertz said he can understand the county wanting to regulate landfills to prevent toxic dumping or improper waste disposal.

But he says he wants to turn the place into a farm surrounded by his children's homes, and he's not about to allow someone to bury hazardous material there.

As the case file sits in the office of Circuit JudgeWarren B. Duckett Jr. awaiting a decision, a litter of stumps and brush lies in a sloping two-acre field off St. Stephens Church Road. Gertz was in the process of turning this muddy field into a more gentlysloping pasture when the latest in a series of court rulings went against him last September.

Near the field of stumps the land drops sharply to a pond. The sharp slope has been gouged by erosion and theonce-clear pond water has turned brown with mud. Gertz says he can'tfix it without violating the law.

"They stop you, and this is what you got to look at," said Gertz's son, Robert Dale Gertz, standing in the field of stumps.

"When I have friends come here, I'd ratherhave them come by a pasture than a bunch of sticks."

From the stump field you can look up a hill and see the top of Robert Dale Gertz's home. Like his brother and his two sisters, Robert Dale Gertz was given a piece of property by his father. It's all part of the elder Gertz's plan.

Robert E. Gertz, who is 51, grew up on a farm a few miles down St. Stephens Church Road. He figures he's been farming sincehe was nine. In 1977, he bought 86 acres near the intersection of St. Stephens and Chesterfield roads, planning to improve the land, turnit into a farm for boarding horses and give a piece of property to each of his four children. Gertz himself lives about two miles down St. Stephens Church Road from the farm.

When he bought the place, Gertz said, it was a mess. Junk cars littered a back field and deep gullies cut through the land. Rain washed earth down into these ravines and the ravines grew.

"These farms are not like the farms on Davidsonville Road, when it's flat like a table top," said Gertz. "These farms, if you don't work on them they just wash away."

Gertz had the junk cars and other trash removed. And in the early 1980s, he beganthe task of filling the ravines with stump, brush and dirt, a farming practice he says is centuries old. The contemporary twist is that afarmer can make some money by charging haulers to dump on his land.

Gertz, for example, had tree stumps and brush trucked in from areaconstruction sites and charged haulers between $125 and $150 per 30-foot truck, about a third of what it would cost them to dump the material in a landfill.

The county cited Gertz for violating grading and filling ordinances. The dispute went to Circuit Court. It was settled in August 1985, when the two sides agreed, with the court's blessing, to a list of conditions under which Gertz would continue his farm work.

The work continued until May 1989, when the county revokedthe agreement. The department of Inspections and Permits cited Gertzfor performing work not including in the scope of the 1985 agreementand saying he needed a state grading permit to operate a landfill. In September 1989, the county asked that Gertz be found in contempt ofcourt for failing to live up to the terms of the 1985 consent agreement.

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