Burning problem, burning solution? HOWARD COUNTY

February 10, 1993

What to do with Howard County's trash is now a front-burner political issue. Faced with the prospect that ground water beneath the county's landfill in Marriottsville is contaminated and may be affecting the wells of nearby residents, elected officials are scurrying for solutions. Their reaction is justifiable.

Finding a long-term solution, however, demands calm decision-making that takes into account all the pros and cons of waste disposal options. Unfortunately, that will take time, something that seems in short supply now that the potential for contamination at the landfill has been uncovered. Luckily for the county, there is at least the semblance of a plan taking shape to cope with the landfill problem.

A committee appointed by County Executive Charles I. Ecker has recommended that Howard County take steps to burn its trash rather than dispose of it in landfills. Mr. Ecker believes the proposal presents the safest way to get rid of the county's trash after all efforts at recycling are exhausted.

Local opposition to incineration was always a factor to be overcome if such a plan was pursued. Now, however, that opposition may be dampened by evidence that the current landfill may be more of a health hazard than an alternative means of waste disposal.

Still, the county's support for incineration assumes regional cooperation, including the possibility that any eventual incinerator might be built in another jurisdiction. Any project of this type is also years away.

That was fine when officials anticipated closing the Marriottsville landfill in the year 2008. A premature closing, prompted by concern over contamination, however, forces officials to consider more difficult and pressing options.

While shipping Howard County's trash to another jurisdiction may seem the most expedient answer, the negatives are considerable. Will a hauling company -- such as Browning-Ferris Industries -- insist upon the kind of long-term contract BFI has already proposed to the county to haul waste out of state? And what about the moral -- not to mention liability -- issues of dumping trash problems on other communities? Sifting through this dilemma is going to require cool heads -- and some time.

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