Landfill study is approved Council disappoints expansion opponents

May 24, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

Donald L. Gill stood outside the County Council work room, shaking his head ruefully.

The council had just voted to support a $280,000 study to evaluate expansion of Alpha Ridge Landfill.

Gill and L. Scott Muller had led nearby residents in a fight against the landfill expansion. For the past several months, they and their neighbors have been telling the Planning Board and the council that the landfill might be hazardous to their health.

Even to think about expanding the landfill was to break a promise the county made to residents long ago, they said. Until the straw vote at the budget work session Tuesday, they seemed to be winning converts.

The Planning Board had urged the council to reject the proposed study. Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, writing from his sick bed, also urged defeat of the proposal. Gill and Muller gave the council a shortened version of their 97-minute presentation to the Planning Board on May 7.

"It's unbelievable," Gill said afterward. "I'm staggered. People told me I was wasting my time -- that it was a done deal -- but I didn't believe it."

Only C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, voted against the expansion study. Feaga, who is recovering from surgery, was unable to attend the legislative session. Alpha Ridge is in his district.

Council Chairman Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, and Councilman Darrel Drown, R-2nd, said their vote to approve the expansion study did not commit the county to expansion of Alpha Ridge but merely keeps their options open.

The council asked County Executive Charles I. Ecker not to begin the study until after Ecker's newly appointed solid-waste commission makes its report, expected late this fall.

In two hearings before the Planning Board and one before the council, Gill and Muller told of broken promises and fears that leachate from the landfill may be contaminating the ground water.

Contaminants have shown up in two test wells at the north end of the Alpha Ridge property. None has been found, however, in nearby wells on private property or in the Little Patuxent River, says John J. O'Hara, county chief of environmental services.

As for broken promises, Gill and Muller produced government documents from as early as 1978 that said the landfill would be converted to parkland when filled, that it would not be expanded, and that residents would have public water and sewer service by 1996.

"Statements made in the late 1970s to the effect that Alpha Ridge will not be used past the year 2000 should be honored unless there is no viable alternative," the Planning Board wrote Ecker and the council members.

"The Alpha Ridge area should be the last alternative studied, not the first. . . . The hearing process highlighted the current operation of the landfill and underscored the importance of continuing adequate monitoring by both the county and the state for any contamination."

Feaga told the council in his letter that the county should first look to other methods of trash disposal such as composting and incineration. If landfill disposal is still necessary after those methods are employed, then the county should look for a site on which public sewer and water are available, Feaga said.

"The cost of obtaining land inside of the water-sewer service area will seem cheap when compared to the cost of cleaning up contaminated ground water and extending water to service an area where potable well water is no longer available," Feaga said.

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