State regulators cracked down on the operation of the troubled Millersville Landfill late yesterday afternoon, giving the county five months to construct an environmentally sound facility.
The Maryland Department of the Environment served County Executive Robert R. Neall with a complaint for violations of state environmental laws, including the operating permit.
The agency ordered the county to take immediate steps, including the construction of a new disposal cell with a plastic liner and pollutant collection system, to bring the Burns Crossing Road facility back into compliance.
The regulators' primary concern was to move the disposal operation into a lined cell as quickly as possible, MDE spokesman John Goheen said.
The crackdown does not reflect a change in the MDE's policy, Goheen said, though he acknowledged that the media and residents have focused attention on the landfill's shortcomings, including the contamination of two ground water monitoring wells, in recent weeks.
The state has directed the county to modernize its landfill for several years, Go heen said.
"There really was no point in waiting any longer," he said, referring to the timing of yesterday's complaint and order.
Modern, lined cells are part of the county's proposed redesign of the 567-acre site. However, that redesign -- which also extends the landfill's life by 25 years -- has been under review by MDE and other environmental agencies since October 1989.
County and state officials each have said the other is to blamefor the exceedingly lengthy review.
However, Neall applauded the MDE order yesterday.
"Most county governments would not be overjoyed at receiving a state order," Neall said at an early morning press conference after he had learned the complaint would be issued. "But we welcome it because it finally breaks a 3-year-old bureaucratic log jam."
Neall, who called the press conference to announce changes in the landfill's management, questioned whether the five- month deadline to install a $10 million liner and other environmental safeguardsis reasonable.
Goheen said the county must file an appeal, including an alternative schedule, by May 15 if the safeguards will not be in place by the state's deadline.
Among the violations, regulatorscited the county for exceeding approved elevations in three operating disposal areas. In its redesign, the county has proposed increasingthe height of the trash mounds to 303 feet and has already begun moving toward that proposed limit.
The MDE ordered the county to close and cap those operating areas within five months. In addition, the county must study the feasibility of reducing that elevation to 177 feet, slightly higher than the landfill's natural elevations, Goheen said.
Goheen said the MDE order demands better compliance with erosion-control laws. The county must obtain an approved erosion-control plan from the Anne Arundel County Soil Conservation District, he said. The county has been operating the landfill, including regrading theslopes of several cells, without a properly approved plan for three years, state officials have said.
Neall said the county expects tohave an approved plan within the coming weeks.
The order also directs the county to immediately collect and remove wind-blown trash from the site.