Stumped Again

November 17, 1993

Baltimore County officials held an embarrassing news conference recently to announce an agreement to drop two lawsuits against James F. Jett, the owner of the much-derided "stump dump" in the west county community of Granite. Officials should feel embarrassed about this mess. So should Mr. Jett, but don't hold your breath waiting for any sign of remorse from him. He has caused distress for county officials and Granite residents ever since the first citizen complaints about his operation were voiced more a decade ago.

At that time, people living near Mr. Jett's tree farm in western Baltimore County began to raise concerns about truck traffic and the threat of fire starting in the mountains of stumps. No action was ever taken against Mr. Jett. Then, in February 1991, a fire broke out in the huge debris of stumps. It wasn't extinguished until last January, when the state buried the pile under tons of dirt. The cost to the county -- $700,000.

It took this blaze to light a fire under the government. In the spring of '91, Baltimore County won an injunction blocking Mr. Jett from accepting stumps for mulching -- an order he was later found to have ignored. Fire officials knew about his defiance for three months before government attorneys learned of it, a fact that again drew attention to the county's poor handling of the matter. Other government missteps have included County Executive Roger Hayden's suggestion in 1991 that the county buy the property and turn it into a park. This gave Mr. Jett the excuse to claim that Mr. Hayden's trial balloon scared off investors who would have cleaned up the site.

That job eventually fell to the county after a Circuit Court judge ruled it was the government's duty to tend to the stump fire. Now county officials have seemingly surrendered, deciding not to pursue any more court actions against Mr. Jett. They have agreed to let him mulch stumps on a third of his property as long as he uses the remaining two-thirds only to plant Christmas trees.

The county will also try to make Mr. Jett obtain the permits he has avoided getting. But given his successful flouting of the law, why do county officials believe Mr. Jett will change his ways? No one familiar with this frustrating episode would bet this is the last we will hear of stump-dump problems. More than 10 years after the first complaints, and even after last week's agreement, Granite residents are still fuming at James Jett and county officials. And rightly so.

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