Residents say landfill is too close Group protests plan to build near homes

November 08, 1993|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

Anne Arundel County has plans to build the last cell of the Millersville landfill within 500 feet of houses on Dicus Mill Road, angering local residents who argue that would violate county health regulations.

Members of the Millersville Landfill Citizens Advisory Committee agreed last week to oppose construction of the cell. They point to a clause in the county code that prohibits locating landfills closer than 1,000 feet from any residential, institutional or industrial building.

"In our research we are able to document that in some cases, it's going to be less than that," said Ann Lewen, a member of the advisory committee. "In fact, we're actually going to have 440 feet when it's all said and done for about a third of it."

The code allows landfills closer than 1,000 feet only if the operators get a variance from the county administrative hearing officer. Residents want government officials to apply for a variance.

"We are not going to try to stop construction of the cell," said Lina Vlavianos, a member of the advisory committee.

"We just don't want it to go closer to residences than is allowed by county code."

County officials concede that their plans would place a cell closer to homes than allowed by law, but they say that leaving more than a 500-foot buffer would reduce landfill capacity. And they argue that things were different in 1974, when the permit for the entire 567-acre landfill was approved.

"At that time, we were 1,000 feet from the closest residential building," said Lisa Ritter, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works.

"Now what has obviously happened from 1974 to now is that houses were built closer to the landfill than they existed in the 1970s," she added.

The county even bought two houses to comply with the 1,000-foot buffer, she said.

But Ms. Vlavianos claims several homes along Constant Avenue were closer than 1,000 feet when the landfill opened.

Thomas A. Fales Jr., who said he grew up within 900 feet of where the landfill is located, filed a $130 million suit in April 1992 seeking to close it and to collect damages from the county for himself and his neighbors.

Mr. Fales said he and at least two of his neighbors lived within 1,000 feet of the landfill when it was built. The lawsuit was dismissed two months later.

The landfill has had its share of troubles during the past 2 1/2 years. Problems began in the spring of 1991, when local residents learned of the county's plans to extend the life of the landfill by 25 years.

In April 1992, health officials found traces of chemicals used in household and industrial cleaners in four residents' wells that were similar to contaminants found in monitoring wells in the center of the landfill. Although an investigation to determine the source of the contaminants was inconclusive, the county spent $25,000 to dig new, deeper wells for the residents.

That same month, the Maryland Department of the Environment ordered three cells closed because the county fell nearly three years behind in complying with environmental regulations. The state ordered the county to construct a plastic-lined cell at a cost of $10 million, which opened in October 1992.

The county's plans to construct the last cell close to homes just adds to the list, Ms. Lewen said. And the county's argument that it received approval in 1974 does not matter to her.

"Just because something was acceptable 20 years ago, it doesn't make it acceptable today based on what we know today and the issues that have been raised over the last 20 years," she said.

The county plans to proceed with construction of the cell after engineering plans are complete and a permit is granted by the state environment department. The cell should extend the life of the landfill until 2008.

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