Anne Arundel County would close its troubled sanitary landfills and ship its trash to Ohio under a plan proposed by three County Council members yesterday.
A private waste hauler could begin collecting county trash and shipping it by rail to federally approved landfills in Ohio, western Pennsylvania and to other Midwestern states by July 1, County Council Chairman David Boschert said.
"We need to accept that Anne Arundel County has a problem with its landfills and move swiftly to a solution," said Boschert, a Democrat from Crownsville. "We need to find an acceptable solution to a problem that appears to be getting worse each day."
Two other Democratic councilmen, Edward Middlebrooks of Glen Burnie and George Bachman of Linthicum, back the proposal, which they hope will at least serve as a springboard for debate and action on the Millersville landfill.
Residents who live near the 18-year-old Burns Crossing Road site have begun calling for its closure. They are upset by the discovery of cleaning solvents in ground water below the the 567-acre site, as well as by county plans to extend the life of the landfill by 25 years.
Shipping trash to out-of-state landfills is becoming an increasingly common practice in the northeastern United States. However, no precedent exists in Maryland, said John Goheen, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.
Anne Arundel would need state approval before it could close either the Millersville or Sudley landfills, Goheen said.
"It's a risky proposition but one we would take seriously if we could see concrete, iron-clad contracts," he said. "The one thing we don't want is trash leaving the county only to be sent back and there not be any landfills."
County Executive Robert R. Neall is "intrigued" by the proposal, said press secretary Louise Hayman. "It's a fascinating solution to contemplate, and we await the results of their search with great interest. We're certainly interested to see what the financial implications are."
Middlebrooks said he and the others produced the plan in response to "frustrated" Millersville landfill neighbors who jammed recent council hearings.
"They keep seeing those [garbage] trucks go in and out as if it's 'business as usual,' " Middlebrooks said. "And they know, as the trucks go in, it's only making the problem worse."
"The county executive has been talking a lot about privatization," Boschert said. "This is one avenue where privatization could take over and get the county out of the landfill business."
Millersville and the Sudley landfill in South County accept about 1,300 tons of trash per day.
Under the plan, a private hauler would set up a collection station in West County near a railroad line, Boschert said. The councilmen said they had discussed the possibility with several private firms interested in hauling the trash out of state.
"I want to make sure we aren't just transferring our problems to another area of the country," Boschert said. The trash could actually help some areas of Ohio that are depressed and "looking for revenue," he said.
Private companies have said they would hire at least some of the 67 county employees who would be laid off if the county closed its landfills, the councilmen said.
Hayman said one concern is that the county had planned to finance cleaning up and sealing the landfills using money collected through the daily operation. If the landfills are closed, she asked, where will the county come up with that money?
Middlebrooks said at least one private firm, if it gets the contract, said it would help pay to close the facilities.
"It's almost so simple. It's hard to believe this could take place so easy," Middlebrooks added.
John Scofield, a Severn resident and chairman of Neall's newly appointed Millersville Advisory Committee, said closing the landfills "would be lovely," but he is skeptical that it will come about.
"Where was [the council] when the first well failed seven years ago?" Scofield asked.
"Where were they 18 years ago, at the conception of this place, when the county first lied to us?"