Granite stump fire is buried site to be monitored for months or even years

December 19, 1992|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

An article in Saturday's editions of The Sun incorrectly state the depth of the earth covering the site of the stump dump fire in Granite. The site has been covered with a single layer of earth that varies in depth from 2 to 8 feet.

The Sun regrets the errors.

The stubborn Granite stump dump fire that once spread smoke over much of the metropolitan area has been buried under nearly 100,000 cubic yards of earth.

Workers who have been piling dirt on the burning debris at James Jett's Patapsco Valley Farm since August have finished their work, said George Perdikakis, director of Maryland Environmental Service. Only minor housekeeping chores remain. But the site will be monitored for months or even years, and court battles over the fate of Mr. Jett's operation may last that long, too.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

By Jan. 1, only one observer in a portable construction trailer will be left on the 5-acre fire site, Mr. Perdikakis said. The observer will sound a warning if any new heat "chimneys" poke their smoky fingers through the dual 8-foot compacted layers of earth that cover the dump.

The good news for Baltimore County, which hired Mr. Perdikakis' nonprofit firm to squelch the blaze, is that the final cost will be only $700,000, less than half the $1.6 million the county budgeted for the job. Mr. Perdikakis said Maryland Environmental Service needed less than half of the 250,000 cubic yards of earth it originally estimated.

As recently as last summer, when the county was considering ripping the stump piles apart, estimates of the cost of dousing the fire ran as high as $6 million.

After the fire erupted Feb. 2, 1991, efforts to isolate it, douse it with water and smother it with foam all failed.

The transformation of the mountainous piles of tree stumps from a flaming vision of hell to what appears to be a pleasant, grassy meadow is startling.

"They've done a great job," John Jacob, vice president of the Greater Patapsco Community Association, said of Maryland Environmental Service upon hearing the news yesterday.

"I haven't smelled anything from the dump for quite a while," he said. "The people [who live in the area] are glad this is finally done."

Michael P. Tanczyn, Mr. Jett's attorney, declined to comment on the situation yesterday.

The handful of union apprentices who buried the fire with heavy machinery are now building protective coverings for underground temperature sensors, creating a few small ponds of water over known hot spots and stabilizing a storm-water retention pond on the site, Mr. Perdikakis said.

Mr. Jett, who made money by allowing contractors to dump tree stumps from development sites on his hilly 220-acre farm in the 8700 block of Dogwood Road in western Baltimore County, wants to resume his business on the 5-acre portionwhere the fire once raged.

That struggle will resume Jan. 21 in Baltimore County Circuit Court. Mr. Jett is expected to press his argument that it is safe to lift the injunction barring his operations and begin taking in new stumps to be ground for mulch.

County officials have argued that the site should remain idle for months to make sure the danger is past.

Mr. Jacob said he would like to see a state law requiring that developers grind up stumps on their construction sites to prevent any more stump dumps from growing.

Both the county and area residents have filed civil suits against Mr. Jett in Circuit Court. They'reclaiming millions in damages from the fire, charging that the blaze was the result of Mr. Jett's poor management of his land. Mr. Jett has claimed that the fire was caused by arsonists and that he is not responsible.

Residents and the county and state governments have battled Mr. Jett for nearly a decade to stop the flow of heavy trucks laden with stumps from using the community's narrow, rural roads to get to his dump.

A new state law requiring a permit to operate wood recycling businesses is expected to give the state more power in deciding whether Mr. Jett will be able to reopen his mulching operation.

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