Council loses its appeal in rubble landfill dispute HARFORD COUNTY

October 28, 1992|By Carol L. Bowers and Bruce Reid | Carol L. Bowers and Bruce Reid,Staff Writers

The Harford County Council should not have acted without the local executive branch in appealing decisions in a highly tTC controversial landfill dispute, the state's highest court has ruled.

In the ruling this week, the court dismissed the council's appeal of lower court decisions in the case involving Maryland Reclamation Associates Inc.'s proposal to build the 55-acre Gravel Hill rubble landfill near Havre de Grace.

State environmental law requires the council and the local executive branch to act in tandem when approving a solid-waste plan, the court said, and the council had no right to appeal on its own.

The ruling was a partial victory for Maryland Reclamation, which has sought since 1989 to get state and county approval to operate the landfill. The fill would accept construction debris, asbestos and other rubble. In the interim, Maryland Reclamation has received a state operating permit.

But the company is still battling the county administration and the council in court over whether zoning regulations enacted in 1991 -- midway through the state's review of its permit application -- should apply to its proposed operation.

"The decision maintains what we've been saying all along," said Richard D. Schafer, president of Maryland Reclamation. "It's not the American way to change the rules in the middle of the game. I really believe that it's time for the parties . . . to sit down and try to work this thing out."

But Councilman Barry T. Glassman, a Republican whose District D includes the Gravel Hill site, said: "The council and the citizens are . . . not going to compromise at this point. This thing is sort of like a war. We've got a lot of battles to go."

In summing up the county's liability, Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson said the cost of litigation pales in comparison to the cost of cleaning up any pollution from the site.

Controversy over the landfill proposal contributed to the 1989 defeat of then-Del. William H. Cox Jr. -- among the guarantors of the loan Maryland Reclamation used to buy the site -- and four council members. Maryland Reclamation's bid to start a rubble fill landed in the courts after a council dominated by new members voted in May 1990 to approve a resolution removing the site from the county's plan for disposing of its solid waste.

That 1990 council vote rescinded a 1989 decision made by the previous council that had acknowledged Maryland Reclamation's site would be among the locations to receive rubble generated within the county, provided the company received a state operating permit.

Maryland Reclamation, based in Churchville, sued the county and the County Council, alleging that the council exceeded its authority by changing its mind.

Harford Circuit Judge Cypert O. Whitfill and the Maryland Court of Special Appeals agreed, saying the council should not have voted to remove the company's site from the solid-waste-management plan, a document the state requires to show how a county will dispose of its waste.

Then-County Executive Habern W. Freeman decided the county administration would drop out, but the council voted to appeal to the state's highest court.

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