Environmental Forum for Harford

October 06, 1992

Setting up a committee or a working group is a common method of avoiding responsibility and delaying hard decisions. Group dynamics often perversely work against the achievement of what should be common goals.

In the absence of an alternative forum, however, it can promote dialogue among parties who haven't communicated well with each other or even understood the common problem. That's why we support the creation of a working group in Harford County of state and county officials and private citizens to address thorny environmental problems.

There's a balance of mistrust on all sides, a feeling that others are not operating in good faith. The problems, mainly centering on landfills, have long resulted in buck-passing and finger-pointing between the state Department of the Environment and Harford officials. Citizen frustration with the system is escalating. Landfill developers are uncertain about requirements, or if they will change.

There's a long litany of gripes and complications that led to the idea for the working group, proposed by environment chief Robert Perciasepe and endorsed by County Council President Jeffrey Wilson.

Citizens complain that community concerns are ignored by MDE officials in approving operating permits. Both MDE and Harford officials argue that the laws limit their discretion in acting on landfill issues. The county changed zoning rules in the middle of one landfill permit application, so MDE issued a permit that can't be used and the issue is in court. MDE has been timid in acting against permitted facilities, despite demonstrated violations. A landfill included in the county's solid waste plan did not get renewal of its state permit.

But that's history. As Mr. Perciasepe said, "I'm not a time traveler. I can't go back and change the past." He can change past practice of the department, however, and has promised to do so. Harford County's elected officials can also adopt a more cooperative attitude, and citizens could drop the knee-jerk NIMBY campaigns and work toward meeting broader community needs.

Harford County and the state Department of the Environment have successfully worked together to draft a water and sewer plan, so there's no reason they can't do the same on issues such as air pollution, sewage sludge, and landfills. The Harford working group, along with a statewide citizens advisory committee proposed by MDE, could improve communication and education on these troublesome issues for the benefit of all.

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