State Faults Landfill's Operators

Competence Of Managers Repeatedly Questioned

April 28, 1992|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff writer

Frustrated with environmental violations at the Millersville Landfill, state regulators have questioned for more than two years the competence of top Public Works officials in charge of the facility.

Improper, faulty or non-existent erosion controls, blowing trash and other permit violations have recurred during the site's 18-year history,state records show.

"There have been many inspections, phone calls, meetings and contacts with all levels of Public Works," wrote Barry Schmidt, then-state chief of Hazardous and Solid Waste Enforcement, in a May 1, 1990 memorandum. "At best we have only gotten temporary corrections.

"I believe this pattern will continue in the absence of competent management," Schmidt said in his note to James Pittman, deputy director of Hazardous and Solid Waste Administration. "I believe our response now is not to order the obvious corrections, but to order competent management be installed."

Two weeks ago -- and nearly two years after Schmidt's memorandum -- the state gave County Executive Robert R. Neall 150 days to open a new, state-of-the-art disposal area at Millersville and to correct numerous violations, or close the Burns Crossing Road facility.

The Maryland Department of the Environment took the matter out of the hands of the landfill's managers with the April 15 order, Pittman said Friday.

"To comply with this, they cannot operate as usual," he said. "They are going to have to bring in more people. They'll have to buy more equipment. And it will cost them more money."

Pittman said Neall appeared to address the management problems when he shifted authority over the landfill from Parker Andrews, director of the county Department of Public Works, to Department of Utilities Director Tom Neel, who already oversaw operation of the county's eight sewage treatment plants and the public water system.

Neel has said he will evaluate the management within the county Bureau of Solid Waste, which operates the landfill, according to how well it complies with the state order. One of the priorities set by the county executive is the hiring of a landfill manager -- a post vacant for three years -- to oversee day-to-day operations.

Andrews did not return repeated telephone calls to the Department of Public Works.

Pittman said his agency, part of the state Department of the Environment, did not act sooner because "we were getting temporary assurancesand temporary fixes from the county."

But problems recurred, he said.

"It culminated to the point where the problems were so numerous that . . . at the end (landfill workers) weren't able to catch up at all," Pittman said. "All the excuses the county could come up withwere exhausted."

Some residents near the landfill and environmentalists say the state should have moved sooner and more forcefully.

"Yes, the management at the landfill needs questioning," said Lina Vlavianos, a Millersville resident and environmental activist. "But (state regulators) should have cleaned up their own house before they said someone else's needed dusting."

The state's weak response to repeated erosion-control violations is just a case in point, said Vlavianos, who, as a member of the non-profit Maryland Save Our Streams organization, monitored the violations.

"The inspectors would pleadwith the (landfill) people to do something about the site, but did they ever put out a stop-work order?" Vlavianos said. "Never, ever. That's an absolutely ludicrous way for an enforcement agency to act."

In written reports dating as far back as 1988, state inspectors began linking the landfill's environmental problems -- including poorly maintained erosion controls -- to poor management.

Inspector Robert Darnel reported he found "serious operational problems," including vast areas of bulldozed earth that could erode with the first rain, when he checked the site on Oct. 19, 1988.

"Parker (Andrews) and Richard (Waesche, chief of the county Bureau of Solid Waste) were advised that, unless the soil is stabilized immediately, it is going to bea bad winter for all of us when the rains begin and Save Our Streamscrucifies us," Darnel observed.

Eight months later, on June 27, 1989, inspector James M. Trouba met Waesche at the landfill and concluded, "The major problem at this facility in this engineer's opinion is the management-labor problems. The management is out of touch with the operational aspect at the facility."

Inspector Jason Twell expressed his concern about "the giving and executing of supervisory orders" at the landfill after a May 14, 1990 field visit.

"There may not be any communication between those responsible for compliance andthose who execute the remedies," he said.

Each of those inspection reports is part of the state's case against the county, Pittman said.

"The state tries to the extent it can to work with the counties," Pittman said, adding that his agency recognizes that residents need a place to dump their trash. "It only uses a heavy hand when we absolutely have to."

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