Arundel sues in landfill cleanup County wants insurance payments

March 25, 1993|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff Writer

Anne Arundel County sued seven insurance companies yesterday, saying they are illegally refusing to pay $16 million in estimated expenses to clean up the Glen Burnie landfill.

The 25-page suit charges that the county paid thousands of dollars in premiums between 1969 and 1985, but that the insurers balked when it came time to pay for the state-ordered clean up at the 130-acre landfill on Dover Road.

"The insurance companies have failed, or threaten to fail, to honor their obligations under the county's insurance policies," the suit claims.

The suit says that the county has spent $600,000 to clean up the site and $100,000 to get a court order to have it removed from the Environmental Protection Agency's National Priorities, or Superfund, list.

County Attorney Judson P. Garrett said that the $16 million figure was reached last year during the county's legal battle to have the site removed from the Superfund list. Classification as a Superfund site would have added to the cost, he said.

"We're saying that we're entitled to coverage, and they're using the language in the [insurance] contracts that we don't think applies to contest our position," Mr. Garrett said.

John Anderson, a spokesman for Maryland Casualty Co., the only Maryland-based insurer named as a defendant, declined to comment yesterday.

The other defendants are: Allstate Insurance Co., of Northbrook Ill.; Centennial Insurance Co. of New York, N.Y.; Continental Casualty Co. of Chicago, Ill.; First State Insurance Co. of Boston, Mass.; Pennsylvania Manufacturers' Association Insurance Co. of Philadelphia, Pa., and Employers Insurance of Wausau, of Wausau, Wis..

Joseph D. Tydings, the Washington lawyer hired by the county to handle the suit, said that the insurers balked at paying because Congress passed a law in 1981 making any party who owned or managed a landfill liable for cleaning up any contaminants, whether or not they are responsible.

Mr. Tydings, who has handled similar suits in Colorado and Delaware, said that it all comes down to the way the courts interpret the word "damages."

If a judge assigned the layman's ordinary meaning, the county should be entitled to recover clean-up costs. But if the courts assign a more narrow, legal interpretation, the county could not get the money.

The county operated the landfill from 1970 to 1982. County Executive Robert R. Neall has proposed spending $8 million over the next couple of years to clean it up.

Toxic chemicals, including cyanide and cancer-causing heavy metals, were discovered in monitoring wells at Glen Burnie in 1980. The chemicals since have been tracked leaving the site and contaminating Furnace Branch, county officials said.

Last June, state inspectors also detected oil traces in a drainage field at the facility.

County officials say construction of a plastic sheet covered with clay to cap all 130 acres is slated to begin next summer.

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