Mounds of Trash -- and Questions HOWARD COUNTY

June 01, 1993

By proposing to extend water and sewer service to the area around the Alpha Ridge Landfill in Marriottsville, Howard County Executive Charles Ecker means to respond to concerns that the dump might have contaminated local wells.

But the plan also raises questions to which the executive can now offer only sketchy answers.

* How long will residents have to wait for the service? Mr. Ecker says maybe a year or so after he introduces a bill to the County Council, which could happen this month.

* Despite the fact that contaminants have been found in test wells near the landfill but not in private wells, isn't Mr. Ecker's plan an admission that the private water is unsafe? He denies this, calling the extension of water service a precaution in case the private wells are later found to be tainted. If so, the county could then provide bottled water until public water becomes available.

* How much will the plan cost and how will the county pay for it? One official guesses a price of up to $1 million. The funding, Mr. Ecker says, might come from a tax source, but neighbors of the dump could be spared any special added tax.

* Is the extension an excuse for development? Mr. Ecker and other officials argue otherwise. They say much of the area is already spoken for, and its low-density zoning won't be changed.

* Lastly, what's to be done about the landfill? Residents, led by biological chemistry professor Donald Gill, have blocked expansion of the facility. Seeking to shut it, they want trash to be taken out of the county by a private hauler. However, Mr. Ecker doesn't want to commit the county to an expensive, long-term hauling contract that could play havoc with a regional solid-waste disposal strategy. What's more, he says, he's uncomfortable with the idea of dumping Howard's trash in someone else's backyard.

As late and incomplete as it might be, the county executive's plan to extend water service at least acknowledges responsibility for a government-made problem. So does Mr. Ecker's creation of a landfill advisory committee whose members will include Dr. Gill. For a stark contrast, look no farther than Baltimore County, where officials recently hired a private attorney to fight a community's attempts to blame the government for a leaky municipal landfill.

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