State sues to close stump dump Landfill has no permit

June 21, 1993|By Alan J. Craver | Alan J. Craver,Staff Writer

State environmental officials have filed suit in Howard Circuit Court to shut down a western Howard County stump dump that has operated for years without a permit.

The Maryland Department of the Environment contends in the suit filed on June 14 that Bassler's Inc. has repeatedly violated state laws and ignored orders to cease operations.

Bassler's has operated the dump without a permit along the 4900 block of Sheppard Lane since 1983, accepting tree stumps, roots, brush, limbs and other land-clearing debris, the suit says.

The company operates the landfill on a 39-acre tract of a 430-acre property owned by 64-year-old Alfred S. Bassler. The property is also home to Hayes Field airport and a horse farm.

"We have tried for many months, even years, to gain compliance," said John Goheen, spokesman for the environment department. "[Mr. Bassler] failed to do so, so we've decided to take the next step."

The environment department, represented by the state attorney general's office, is asking the court to order the company to cease accepting waste and develop a plan to close its landfill within 45 days after a court order is issued.

The state also wants the court to order Bassler's to pay fines of up to $10,000 per day for each of the six violations listed in the suit.

To Mr. Bassler, owner of the landfill, the suit is another step in a long line of efforts by the state and county to put new regulations on his company.

"They want me to jump through all their hoops, but they got a lot of hoops and they don't hold the hoops still," he said.

Mr. Bassler said he is seeking a natural wood-waste recycling permit from the state. He plans to provide the environment department with information, including pictures of his operations, by the end of the month.

He said his company provides a necessary service caused by the county's rapid pace of development. The dump, accepting materials that other landfills don't, is the only one of its kind in Howard.

But citizens who live near Bassler's have long voiced concern over the materials being dumped at the landfill and the heavy truck traffic using the narrow Sheppard Lane to get to the site.

"[The landfill's closing] wouldn't be bad news for anyone along Sheppard Lane," Lola Klein, who lives on Richland Farm next to the Bassler property.

"If the state feels there is due cause for closing it down," Mrs. Klein said, "I would certainly go along with it."

In Bassler's composting system, wood and other debris are dumped into piles rising several stories. Grass clippings are blended in, and periodically, holes are dug in the piles to allow oxygen in and steam out.

Then, after five or more years, the decomposed wood is dug up, screened and mixed with different varieties of topsoil.

Bassler's submitted applications for operating permits from the state Department of Mental Health and Hygiene in 1983 and 1986, the suit says. But the department, which regulated dumps at the time, told the company that a permit was not required for its operations.

The state, however, changed its regulations and began requiring permits for such dumps in 1988, a year after the Department of the Environment was established, the suit says.

Environment officials met with Mr. Bassler to discuss plans to seek a permit in October 1988, but he told them he would not seek a permit until a zoning dispute with the county was settled.

Two months later, a Howard Circuit judge issued a ruling prohibiting Mr. Bassler from continuing operations at the dump, the suit says. The company was permitted to accept enough debris to fill a 4-acre hole at the site, according to the ruling.

The county informed the state in 1989 that Bassler's had expanded the landfill beyond the 4-acre portion, the suit says.

The department then issued an order, directing the company to stop accepting debris and to close its dump.

In October 1989, part of the landfill caught fire and continued to burn or smolder for the next nine months, the suit says.

The state inspected the landfill nine times between July 1990 and last January to find that Bassler's continued to operate the unpermitted landfill, the suit says.

The case has been assigned to Judge Cornelius Sybert Jr., but no proceedings have been scheduled.

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