Opponents of expansion at Alpha Ridge landfill met with County Executive Charles I. Ecker last week to show him their smoking gun -- written proof the county promised not to enlarge the landfill.
Alpha Ridge is expected to fill up somewhere between 2000 and 2005. Much to the dismay of nearby residents, the county is considering expansion of Alpha Ridge before evaluating sites elsewhere.
Residents say to even consider expanding the landfill is a betrayal of promises made in 1978 when Alpha Ridge was being proposed.
Adding to their ire is the fact that Ecker and County Council chairmanPaul R. Farragut, D-4th, say they have searched the records and findnothing that would prevent the county from expanding Alpha Ridge.
Nearby residents L. Scott Muller and Donald L. Gill did some searching of their own. They found what they said was a written promise never to expand the landfill and took it to Ecker last week in hopes of having him agree to drop the project.
What happened instead is thatEcker used exactly the same passage to show that the county could enlarge the landfill provided it went through the same public process.
The disputed paragraph is contained in a Feb. 3, 1978, letter to western Howard County residents from the public works director at the time.
"Any expansion subsequent to (the issuing of a state) permitwould require a repetition of the entire design, review, public hearing, and issuance of a new permit," the letter said. "It is not the intent of the county to expand the landfill facility beyond the limitsshown on the approved documents."
The "not the intent . . . to expand" clause was the evidence Muller and Gill had been looking for.
Ecker sees it differently. He contends the remark meant the county did not have expansion plans at that time. If the county meant never to expand, there would have been no reason to mention "new design, review, hearings, and the issuance of a new permit," Ecker says.
If the county does expand Alpha Ridge, the county will have to follow the plan outlined -- "redesign, review, public hearing, and issuance ofa new permit," Ecker said.
The opponents say Ecker is either being devious or being misled by the Public Works Department. Gill says it may be a combination of the two. He said an otherwise very helpful public works employee concluded a conversation with him by saying, "Why don't you just quit being a thorn in our side and let this go through the public process?"
Ecker says that, far from being devious, he is trying to bring the landfill discussion out into the open. Thatprocess began last May when he received $285,000 in the fiscal 1992 capital budget to evaluate potential landfill sites.
Three months later, the county limited its alternatives to three adjoining properties -- the Percon Inc. and Doll family properties to east and the Harless-Pendleton parcel to the west.
Residents complained that by limiting alternatives to adjoining property, the county had significantly changed the Alpha Ridge project without first conducting a public hearing.
Ecker agreed. He told the Public Works Department to stopthe study immediately and to amend the description of the project inthe fiscal 1993 capital budget.
Amending the description would give people a chance to testify about the project, provided they knew about the change. However, county officials viewed the change as minorand did not post notices or advertise it as a substantially changed project.
Residents were incensed. More than 200 showed up at a Planning Board meeting Feb. 18 to lambaste the proposal. The fire marshal said that was too many people for a 100-person room. The landfill protesters were sent home until Feb. 20, when about about 110 residents returned.
They told the Planning Board they felt the county had reneged on its promise to confine Alpha Ridge to 200 acres. To limit new site selection to adjoining property "is a devious, dishonest wayto proceed," a spokesman said.
The Planning Board agreed and rejected the amendment for the time being. It called on the administration to fulfill posting and advertising requirements and schedule another Planning Board hearing. No date has been set.
Muller and Gill want other areas of the county explored as a potential landfill site. Failing that, they want a compromise. The compromise would limit any expansion to a composting facility.
Ecker said he could not promisethat. "We have to find additional landfill space," he said. "The adjoining property would be the best site for a new landfill if the landis found suitable."
Gill and Muller say Ecker's motives are political.
"His only intention now appears to go ahead in order to try to circumvent criticism by residents," Gill said. "We came to seem him last week to be constructive and to reach a possible compromise because we thought he was aware of the devious, dangerous and dishonest nature of the proposed expansion. He sent us away with nothing other than his intention to blunder on with this plan."
Muller said no one wants any landfill nearby. Ecker and the Council are going to be looking at numbers, he said, adding "There are more people in the east(opposed to a landfill there) than in the west."
He said the county's attitude on what he believes to be past promises should be a warning about the county's' promises today about preserving land throughcluster zoning and farmland preservation.
"A lot of promises today may not be upheld tomorrow," Muller says.