Spencer Sand & Gravel Inc. received county clearances in January to expand its Abingdon rubble fill despite a history of environmental complaints over its 14 years in operation, records show.
One of the most recent complaints was filed last September when high levels of trichloroethene, a cancer-causing chemical, were found in test samplesat the rubble fill, records show.
State inspectors also found that Spencer has accepted household and industrial trash, failed to adequately cover waste, and operated beyond permitted hours.
The County Council, which added Spencer's expansion to the county solid-waste management plan in January, is just now learning of the company's history of complaints.
"When I seethe information now, it makes me very angry," said Councilwoman Theresa M. Pierno, D-District C. "We were led to believe they were in compliance and good operators."
Tuesday, the council voted to subpoena all state and county records on the rubble fill, after citizens provided some information on the Spencer operations.
But many recordsthe council wants are old and do not reflect current operations, Spencer spokesman said William Geary.
Geary said the facility does not pose a health threat. He noted that four generations of the Spencerfamily live near the site.
"This landfill, if you look at it, it's in their back yard," Geary said. "They don't intend to leave."
Pierno, who voted against adding Spencer to the solid-waste plan, saidthe council had little information on the company's history before its January vote.
When the council was reviewing Spencer's expansion request, members asked the state Department of the Environment for its records, but the agency never provided the documents.
The county Health Department had provided the council with a one-year historyof the rubble fill and a summary of state non-compliance reports forthe last three years, Pierno said.
The summary showed that MDE filed 107 non-compliance reports against Spencer in 1989, 1990 and 1991. The summary listed problems ranging from inadequate coverage of waste to litter blowing around the site.
Council President Jeffrey D.Wilson expressed "anger and frustration" that the council didn't have full information on Spencer.
"I certainly would have viewed the matter differently," said Wilson, who voted in favor of the company'sexpansion. "I feel very strongly that whether it was through disorganization or something worse, we did not have all the information we should have had before us."
While supporting the council's vote forthe subpoena, residents expressed concern that the council did not act until they provided the members with state and county reports.
"The fact that ultimately the burden of responsibility ended up falling on the shoulders of individual citizens is discouraging at best," said one resident.
The council in January voted, 5-2, to add an 18-acre expansion of the rubble fill to Harford's solid-waste plan. County approval is needed before Spencer can get a state permit for expansion.
Spencer representatives told county officials in October that if they didn't move quickly on granting approval for the expansion, the company wouldn't negotiate to give the county property easements to a major water line.
The company's expansion is in the third and final phase of reviews by the state Department of the Environment.The agency will schedule a public hearing on the company's plans later this year.
Although numerous site complaints have been issued by the department, the agency has taken little action against the company.
"Frankly, it's a lot of nickel-and-dime stuff," MDE spokesmanJohn Goheen said. "There's nothing really outstanding."
But residents compare Spencer to a motorist who continues to receive traffic citations. If the motorist receives numerous citations over the years,residents say, he risks suspension of his license.
Residents havebecome worried about speaking out against Spencer and its expansion for fear that they will be sued by the company for defamation.
Citizens concerned about the proposed Gravel Hill Road rubble fill near Havre de Grace were sued by its developer in 1990 after voicing opposition to the company's plan. The residents counter-sued, and the cases were dropped after Maryland Reclamation Associates, which owns the fill, agreed in March 1991 to pay a total of $30,000 to five residents.
Spencer operated without a permit at its 51-acre site on both sides of Abingdon Road near Interstate 95 in the late 1970s, acceptingrocks, sand and clean fill, records show. The company got its first state permit in 1982. The permit was renewed in 1987.
Spencer is allowed to accept materials such as tree stumps, rocks, concrete, lumber, asphalt and steel at its site, according to the company's 1987 permit.
The permit stipulates Spencer is not allowed to accept medical waste, asbestos, hazardous substances, solvents or demolition materials that are not "physically part of the structure."