It may not matter to many residents that county government is trying to figure out what to do with the 180,000 tons of trash it generates each year, but Arthur Grace cares.
"I have a personal stake in this," he told the Solid Waste Advisory Committee that met last night at the Board of Education Building. Mr. Grace lives next to the county's Alpha Ridge Landfill in Marriottsville, on land the county is considering acquiring for expanding the facility.
In fact, the 11 residents who attended the meeting were outnumbered by committee members, consultants and a county Public Works Department administrator. Most of the residents live in Mr. Grace's neighborhood.
They all are aware of County Executive Charles I. Ecker's interest in expanding the landfill and have actively protested the proposal.
"He wants to expand that landfill right over the top of my house," said Mr. Grace. "He wants to put some of that black plastic over where my kids used to play," continued Mr. Grace, referring to the landfill's liner.
Mr. Grace was rebutted by committee chairwoman Miriam Mahowald, who said that Mr. Ecker, who appointed the committee, is "more serious about this than the county population in general," and is keeping an open mind on the county's solid waste options.
Last night's meeting was the second of three to gauge public opinion on how the county should deal with its trash. The first one also was sparsely attended. The last is scheduled for 10 a.m. Nov. 14 in the Banneker Room of the George Howard Building on Court House Drive in Ellicott City.
Next month, the committee is expected to recommend whether the county should dispose of its trash with an incinerator, or a composting operation, or a new or expanded landfill, or some combination of those choices.
The county might also join other counties in a regional effort, or pay a private hauler to deal with the problem.
Mr. Grace asked the county's consultant how long the landfill could last if some of the alternatives being studied are implemented.
"Instead of 16 years, we probably could at least triple that," said John Roderique, of the Virginia-based SCS Engineers, which the county hired to assist the committee.
Mr. Roderique said "the best plan we know for source reduction is the recession," which county government said has reduced the county's output of waste from about 750 tons a day to about 500 tons. The landfill had been expected fill up by the year 2002, but the newest estimate is 2008.
In order to extend the life of the landfill, however, the county must find another way to dispose of much of its trash, and many of the residents at the meeting said they thought it would be fair to build an incinerator to spare their homes.
But Mrs. Mahowald told the group that the executive and County Council have received many letters from citizens asking the county to impose a moratorium on incinerators.
Mr. Grace walked out of the meeting shortly after hearing that.
Bitterly, he thrust a thumb toward Route 108, saying "most of them live right over here, in Columbia, and don't live near the landfill."
In May, the County Council approved $280,000 to evaluate expansion of the landfill, but the study has been put on hold until the committee makes its recommendations.