$130 million sought in landfill suit

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

In apparent violation of the county's own health law, the Millersville Landfill was built within 1,000 feet of a half-dozen or more homes.

And, if the county completes two new disposal areas on the southern edge of the Burns Crossing Road facility, the number of homes within the buffer will increase, said Thomas A. Fales Jr., who grew up within 900 feet of the site.

Friday, Fales asked the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court to award his and other families around the site $130 million in damages. He also asked that the county be ordered to provide every household within 1,000 feet with bottled water.

Fales, representing the Citizens Action Committee to Close Millersville Landfill, made the request as an amendment to the suit that was filed two weeks ago asking that the 567-acre facility be shut down immediately.

"If they build those new cells, it's going to be within 1,000 feet of a lot of homes that never knew they were going to have a landfill in their back yard," Fales said.

Assistant County Attorney Stephen LeGendre refused to comment, citing pending litigation against the county.

Article 14 of the County Code -- which covers environmental health -- says, "Unless unusual circumstances make a closer location both desirable and acceptable, the site of a sanitary landfill shall be at least 1,000 feet from any residential, institutional, or industrial building." The rule was adopted in 1967, seven years before Millersville opened.

Fales said he believes county officials knowingly violated the law, pointing to documents within the county Office of Administrative Hearings. Hearing Officer William L. Hudock granted the county a special exception in 1974 to operate a sanitary landfill in a RA, or rural agricultural, zone.

In particular, Fales points to one document, titled "Millersville Landfill -- Properties within 175 feet from Cell," found with the county's original application for a special exception. It lists 19 property owners whose lots lie within 175 feet of the landfill's disposal cells and their location on property tax maps.

Since the county received state and local approval in 1974 to operate the landfill, it has issued additional building permits for new homes within 1,000 feet of the landfill.

Friday's amended suit charges that the county is attempting to abolish the 1,000-foot buffer requirement through "emergency" legislation that goes before the County Council tomorrow night. The bill would regulate privately owned rubble landfills, which accept construction and other non-hazardous, bulky debris.

"They are trying to change the rules now that we know they've broken them," Fales said.

Myron Wotring, the county executive's legislative liaison, denied that the bill -- a pet project of County Councilwoman Virginia Clagett, a West River Democrat -- would alter the buffer requirement.

The landfill has come under increased scrutiny since nearby residents learned two months ago about 3-year-old plans to extend it's life by 25 years. The residents also are angry that the county discovered toxic chemicals in two ground water monitoring wells at the center of the site in 1985, but never notified them.

The Health Department, which has tested 140 domestic wells around the landfill during the past month, has found similar contaminants that exceed federal drinking water standards in four of those wells.

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