Of Stumps, Dumps and Deaf Ears

November 04, 1992

Item: Baltimore County has filed a $9 million lawsuit against the owner of a "stump dump," which had raised the ire of neighbors for years and has been burning during the past 19 months.

Item: The U.S. government is looking into whether the state and county adequately responded to citizen complaints about possible ground water contamination from a closed public landfill in northern Baltimore County.

Conclusion: Government at times ignores its "of the people, by the people, for the people" mission.

Since the mid '80s, residents in western Baltimore County have complained about the "stump dump" operation at Patapsco Valley Farms. They said that the "Great Wall" of stumps and other construction debris accumulating on the property constituted an environmental hazard, not to mention attracting a stream of truck traffic to winding Dogwood Road. Residents felt that county officials didn't take their complaints seriously enough until a fire ignited at the site in February 1991.

The county took owner James F. Jett to court to halt his operation; on Monday, Circuit Court Judge James T. Smith Jr. finally became exasperated at the behavior of both sides, especially Mr. Jett's apparent disregard of past court orders. The government is now seeking to recoup some of the millions of dollars it has spent trying to douse Mr. Jett's smoky mountain by suing him for, among other things, the environmental damage that residents railed about in the first place.

Meanwhile, in northern Baltimore County, a residents' group has been complaining about contamination of several residential wells. They believe the source is a closed county landfill. County and state officials discount their fears, contending the wells may have been tainted by some unknown source -- even while the county's own paramedics drink only bottled water at their station near the landfill.

The residents' persistence recently convinced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to take a closer look. The EPA has its hands full policing dump sites that were privately owned or unaccountable, so it is significant that it's willing to look into a site owned and monitored by government.

The conclusion for Baltimore County should be this: The best medical professionals don't discount the opinions of their patients, who do, after all, have an intimate knowledge of their bodies. The best government bureaucrats shouldn't discount irregularities pointed out by the citizenry, who do have intimate stakes in their surroundings.

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