Stumped in Clarksville

July 06, 1993

Many Howard County residents would agree that Alfred Bassler fills a valuable need with his stump dump near Clarksville, the only such facility in the jurisdiction.

Even a county councilman and the chairperson of the county's Solid Waste Advisory Committee have gone on the record with their support of the service Mr. Bassler has provided since 1976. Over 17 years, that's a lot of stumps recycled and kept out of landfills.

There's just this one problem with Mr. Bassler's praiseworthy operation: It's illegal.

Both the state and county governments have tried for several years, in vain, to get Mr. Bassler to follow various regulations affecting his business. Now the state is suing to close the dump. Howard County may join the state in pressing the action.

For his part, Mr. Bassler has countered that the governments have kept coming up with new rules that have contradicted previous ones.

Given the sometimes illogical thought patterns of government bureaucrats, it may be easy to sympathize with Mr. Bassler.

Yet anyone who would deride official oversight of dumps and similar facilities need only look to the small western Baltimore County community of Granite near Patapsco Valley State Park.

A fire at a privately owned stump dump there burned for two years while county officials fiddled, apparently unwilling to take control of the situation. The cash-strapped county government eventually had to spend $1.6 million in taxpayers' money to put the fire out.

Since late 1989, there have been three fires at Mr. Bassler's dump in Howard County. He was able each time to extinguish the fires, though one burned for at least a week. Who's to say the facility won't ever experience the kind of fire that had Granite residents fuming and coughing for months on end?

And what if, as some community groups worry, the dump contains unsafe materials that could pollute the air (in the event of a fire) or the ground water (as the result of rain run-off)?

Here's another question to ponder: If the dump is closed, how will the county dispose of stumps and other land-clearing debris that only Mr. Bassler has accepted? One possibility is that Mr. Bassler himself could re-open -- with the proper permits. But no matter whom the task falls to, the operation must be one that the government and residents know to be safely and legally run.

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