When it comes to solving its environmental problems, Harford County might be better off without the state environmental agency, said County Councilman Robert S. Wagner, R-District E.
That's the belief behind the resolution he introduced at Tuesday's council meeting asking the Maryland General Assembly to abolish the Maryland Department of the Environment.
Mr. Wagner's proposal calls for MDE to be abolished "so that the funding dedicated to that department may be allocated to all the counties in the state for management of their environmental programs."
Discussion of the resolution was delayed until a later session.
"It seems to me, control should be at the local level," said Mr.
Wagner after the meeting. "We're more in touch with what's happening in Harford County."
MDE is responsible for establishing and enforcing guidelines that affect the quality of air, land and water throughout the state.
Mr. Wagner says his complaint rises out of a frustration that the MDE isn't sensitive to the specific needs of Harford, such as the impact of its decisions on the quality of life of its residents.
The proposal came as a surprise to state officials.
"We're committed to the environmental programs in Harford County and other counties around the state," said MDE spokesman Mike Sullivan. "Secretary [Robert] Perciasepe has been and is willing to meet with the council any time to discuss any concerns they might have."
Mr. Sullivan noted that roughly 50 percent of MDE's $50 million operating budget is funded by the federal government, and "It's doubtful that could be reallocated" on a county level.
"It's an issue of control more than money," said Mr. Wagner, who noted that in Harford County two chief environmental points of long-standing contention are the proximity of private rubble fills to residential neighborhoods and the disposal of sludge on farmland. MDE regulates rubble fill permits and sludge disposal operations.
"Their attitude is, 'It's only farmland,' " he says. "What they don't realize is that what you put on that land today is important 20 years from now."
Mr. Wagner claims state regulations regarding sludge disposal have been relaxed in the last eight years because of a shortage of disposal sites and an increased amount of sludge.
Support for Mr. Wagner's proposal among the rest of the council is uncertain.
Barry T. Glassman, R.-District D, whose district includes much of the northern county, says Mr. Wagner is not alone in his disappointment with the agency, though his abrupt style may be unique.
"I don't necessarily disagree with what he says. I believe MDE has problems and is not doing a good job for us in Harford, but I don't think the resolution will solve any problems. It will just create hard feelings.
"A lot of people are saying [abolishment of the department] should be done, but let the gubernatorial candidates run on that issue. We have to be practical in Harford County, and that's not a practical response no matter how appealing it may be."
Mr. Wagner says he has considered requesting a public hearing on the resolution, "just to enter some things into the public record." After the resolution is discussed by the council it would come up for a formal vote and, if approved, would be forwarded to the General Assembly.
In other action, the council transferred ownership of the John Hoza property, on Route 22 near John Carroll School, to the town of Bel Air. The town plans to turn the property into a park.