County waste plan calls for 3-year landfill closing

January 09, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

The county's only operating landfill would be closed, and much of the county's trash would be shipped out of the area within two years under a waste plan to be proposed this week by County Executive Charles I. Ecker.

The plan calls for the shutdown and a private disposal contract as a temporary solution to preserve landfill space while the county is working out a long-term regional waste solution with Baltimore-area governments.

Mr. Ecker has said he does not favor shipping trash elsewhere except as part of a regional waste plan, but Friday he said the temporary measure might not contradict that position.

"What I was against and am still against is putting it in a landfill anyplace. If it's bad to landfill in Howard County, it's bad to landfill in any other place," the executive said. No matter where the trash ends up, he said, "Howard Countians will have to pay for cleanup."

The plan also assumes that about 40 percent of the county's waste will be recycled. About one-fourth of that recycling would be done by trash-sorting operations such as those that feed trash composting plants.

The Alpha Ridge Landfill in Marriottsville would be closed in about two years -- the time it would take to construct a waste-transfer station -- and remain closed for about three years, according to the plan.

The county is considering spending up to $17 million to cap part of the landfill and clean up ground water contaminated by leaking toxins.

The 10-year waste plan, which all counties and Baltimore are required to submit to state environmental authorities, will be presented Tuesday at a joint public hearing for the county planning and public works boards. The plan is expected to be submitted to the County Council next month, when another public hearing would be held before the council votes on the final document.

Long-term solutions would likely include sending waste to a large trash-burning power plant and a trash composting plant, ,, which would be shared by other counties and Baltimore.

The Alpha Ridge Landfill could be used as a dump site for ash from a regional incinerator, according to the plan. The landfill is expected to reach capacity by 2008, but the plan could extend that by 35 years.

The county would also contribute to a regional solution by allowing other jurisdictions to bring leaves, grass clippings and other yard waste to a proposed privately run composting facility on county land near Lennox Park.

Whatever solution is approved, the cost of disposing of county residents' trash will increase.

The plan contains estimates of per-household costs for six waste alternatives, and the cheapest among them -- continuing to use Alpha Ridge -- tripled costs by 2018.

It now costs the county about $100 per household to dispose of trash. By next year, the plan estimates the county's per household cost at $140. Any of the alternatives to using a landfill would be significantly more expensive, according to the plan's estimates. The costliest would be a county incinerator-power plant, which would cost more than $300 per household by 2000 and steadily increase to $500 per household in 2017, the plan estimates. After that, with its financing paid off, its cost would drop sharply.

County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray said he has yet to study the plan, but he favors the idea of a carefully controlled private contract to ship waste out of the county. "I have supported out-of-county shipping of solid waste . . . if it is acceptable to those places where it was being shipped," he said.

He said there would have to be "serious debate" about how the county would participate in a regional solid waste plan, however.

"When they say regional, I don't think they think of Howard County as being on the receiving end," he said. "You have to be willing to step up to the plate and say, 'We'll accept it for Howard County as well as we'll accept it for another county.' "

Nancy Davis, an Annapolis lobbyist for the Sierra Club and a member of the environmental organization's local chapter, said the county "may be getting a very bad end of the deal" if it accepts incinerator ash. "The toxicity of ash is much more serious than it is with trash," she said. The process of burning the trash makes toxic heavy metals more likely to leach from a landfill, she said.

That assertion was challenged by John J. O'Hara, chief of the county Bureau of Environmental Services, which oversees all waste programs.

"Some of the recent research that has come out indicates that the ash doesn't have the toxicity that it was thought to have in the past," Mr. O'Hara said, adding that the Environmental Protection Agency doesn't classify ash from ordinary trash as toxic waste.

Miriam Mahowald, chairwoman of the county's Solid Waste Advisory Committee, objected to the plan at a committee meeting Thursday night.

"If the county starts shipping out the trash, it's never going to stop. It's just too easy," she said. She also expressed dismay at the fact that the County Council had already invited private contractors to make their pitches before the solid waste plan was even proposed.

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