Stump dump follies

November 12, 1992

Why is Baltimore County always made a monkey when it comes to the long-burning "stump dump" in Granite? Since jTC Ronald Reagan's first term, western county residents have complained about the mountain of stumps that James F. Jett collected on his property for profit; the mound once reached 100 feet high and covered five acres.

But county officials fiddled and then the stump dump burned.

A year ago, county Circuit Court Judge James T. Smith Jr. rebuked county officials, saying that they, not Mr. Jett, must clean up the mess.

And just days ago, Judge Smith threw up his hands in disgust when the county attorney had to admit he was unaware until just before the hearing that the county's fire chief was presenting new evidence regarding Mr. Jett's continued activity at the smoldering stump dump.

Why didn't the county request an immediate injunction if its fire department had been aware since August that Mr. Jett was moving mulch and firewood on and off his property, in defiance of an earlier court order halting the collection of construction debris there?

Why is the county legal department ill-prepared to press aggressively for the public's interest in this case, especially since county taxpayers may be asked to pour a couple of million dollars down this rat hole before the stump dump is considered safe?

Why did County Executive Roger B. Hayden last year raise the nonsensical idea that the county would buy the site and turn it into a park? That leaden trial balloon only served to give Mr. Jett an "out" that the government's intent scared off investors who would have cleaned up the dump.

Why are the residents of Granite being made to suffer over this?

Like the proverbial child who kills his parents and pleads for the court's mercy on the grounds that he is an orphan, Mr. Jett is made out by his attorney to be the victim because he has effectively lost a business that generated $750,000 in 1990.

What's lost is the fact that Mr. Jett created this situation by piling his stumps without precautions against a fire and that he never had to be bonded to protect the public's interest.

Adding insult to injury, Mr. Jett now argues that since the public has done such a swell job of restoring the site, he should be able to resume operations.

County government has mishandled this issue from burning pillar to post. No one has ever figured out what started the fire at Patapsco Valley Farms, and no one has yet figured out how to light a fire under the Hayden administration to resolve this acrid embarrassment.

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