Heads May Roll, Neall Says

Calls Dump Management 'Case Study In Ineptitude'

April 03, 1992|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff writer

Some high-ranking public works officials find their jobs in jeopardynow that County Executive Robert R. Neall has learned they have beenoperating Millersville Landfill for three years without an approved plan to control erosion.

"I think we'll see some changes in the management," Neall spokeswoman Louise Hayman said yesterday. "It's a case study in ineptitude."

Neall announced several steps Wednesday being taken to "restore the public's trust" in the landfill's management. Those steps include the testing of 27 residential wells along Gambrills and New Cut roadsfor the same toxic chemicals found in two test wells on the Burns Crossing Road facility.

The tests have been ordered only as a precaution, since neither the county nor the Maryland Department of the Environment have any evidence that contaminants are moving away from thelandfill, said county Health Officer Tom Andrews. No pollutants havebeen found in nearly two dozen test wells around the perimeter, he said.

In addition to testing, Neall said he would request that inmates at the Herman L. Toulson Correctional Boot Camp regularly pick uplitter along the streets leading to the entrance of the Burns Crossing Road facility. He also said he would request police help in alleviating weekend traffic congestion around the entrance.

Hayman said yesterday that additional steps, which could include personnel changes at the Department of Public Works and its Bureau of Solid Waste, will be announced next week.

For 3 1/2 hours Wednesday night, Neall listened as 200 residents who live near the landfill vented their frustration at what they said are broken promises. They said they believed when the landfill opened in 1974, that it would close a decade later and be converted to a park. They said they were stunned when they learned last month about the county Department of Public Works' 3-year-old plan to extend the life of the landfill by 25 years.

For 18 years, several residents said they've had to contend with trash dumped illegally on the sides of the road by others who grew impatient waiting in the long lines to enter the facility. They said they've had to live with carbon monoxide fumes from trash trucks, dust and depressed property values with only the hope that it would end soon.

Whenthey tried to make employees at the Department of Public Works awareof the problems, several residents said their concerns were trivialized and disregarded.

Many residents were particularly incensed by plans to increase the height of the landfill. Officials, quoted in a 1974 ruling that granted the county a special exception to operate the landfill, promised the landfill would not rise above pre-existing elevations. But plans now call for the landfill to rise 183 feet higher, said Richard Waesche, chief of solid waste.

George Tobak, representing the Aurora Hills and Villa Verde communities, pleaded with Neall: "Isn't there anything that can be done to enforce the promises made in the past?"

Neall said, "I'm going to do my level best to doright. . . . But we have to have a place for refuse."

Millersville Landfill accepts 80 percent of the county's trash. Sudley Landfill,located in South County, takes the remaining 20 percent. Public Works officials say they hope to be recycling 20 percent to 25 percent ofthe county's trash by 1993.

After the meeting, Neall said he is particularly disturbed by the chronic erosion violations and by a Public Works decision three years ago to begin regrading the landfill without the proper approvals. Environmentalists have long complained that the landfill is polluting Severn Run with sediment.

Neall said he will hire a landfill manager -- a post vacant for three years -- tooversee the day-to-day operations, but that won't solve the sedimentviolations.

"If you are operating the landfill without a grading and sediment permit, I don't know if a manager will be able to changethat," he said. "There really isn't any excuse for such a lacklusterperformance."

To help improve that performance, the Solid Waste Bureau hired a contractor last week to seed and mulch exposed areas, Waesche said. His agency also will begin working more closely with theSoil Conservation District, he said.

Asked Wednesday night if Waesche or Public Works Director Parker Andrews is in jeopardy of losingtheir jobs, Neall said, "I believe in due process. When I get to theend of this (investigation), I will make those kinds of decisions."

Lina Vlavianos, a Millersville resident and environmental activist, said the MDE, which enforces landfill regulations, also failed residents by being too lenient with Public Works officials.

Richard Collins, director of MDE's Hazardous and Solid Waste Management Administration, said, "I think I can agree that we should have been a littlemore rigid."

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