10-year waste proposal gets first public hearing

January 12, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

The county's proposed 10-year plan to deal with trash by recycling more of it, shutting down its landfill temporarily and establishing joint projects with other jurisdictions got generally favorable reviews last night from the public but not the private sector.

Only a handful of people showed up at a joint meeting of the planning and public works boards at which the trash proposal had its first public airing. The boards will make recommendations to the County Council on whether to adopt or alter the plan.

Those representing the public consisted of three residents of Marriottsville, where the Alpha Ridge Landfill is located, a Columbia resident and the chairwoman of the county's Solid Waste Advisory Committee.

They agreed with a recommendation in the plan to close Alpha Ridge in two years and hire a private contractor to remove waste from the county.

"We found that landfilling, even with modern technology, is buying time," said Mariam Mahowald, chairwoman of the committee that studied the issue for 1 1/2 years and recommended much of what public works officials put into the plan.

The committee also found that a modern waste-to-energy plant, or trash-burning power plant, seems to be less environmentally harmful than landfilling.

They disagreed sharply, however, on whether it was a good idea to privately contract to have waste shipped out of the county. Most of the waste would be taken to landfills in remote areas far from cities or taken to regional incinerators.

Ms. Mahowald said she believes it will be too easy for the county to continue shipping its trash elsewhere for the long-term and avoid more painful alternatives.

Those alternatives, laid out in the plan, consist of saving space in the Alpha Ridge Landfill to receive ash from a regional incinerator, should Baltimore-area jurisdictions agree to cooperate on waste disposal. The county could also participate by taking yard waste, such as grass clippings and leaves from other jurisdictions, and composting it at a privately run facility on county land near Lennox Park.

Planning Board member Dale Schumacher said the county could be more visionary in its handling of waste, as it has been on other issues such as the landmark anti-smoking law.

He asked public works officials to come up with incentives for reducing waste and recycling.

"They dealt with [smoking] at the front end. They didn't deal with cigarettes by building more hospitals," Mr. Schumacher.

Two landfill activists from Marriottsville, L. Scott Muller and Dr. Donald L. Gill, spoke in favor of shipping the trash elsewhere for the short-term.

Dr. Gill opposed the idea of accepting ash at the landfill, saying there was "no question" that it was toxic. He said the ash would add to existing groundwater contamination from 13 years worth of trash being dumped in the landfill's closed, clay-lined cell.

More dumping at the new cell, double-lined with plastic and other materials, would hamper cleanup efforts, he said.

"Would you really want to put a lot more toxic ash right next to where it's already contaminated?" Dr. Gill asked.

County officials have noted that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not consider such ash toxic, however.

Three representatives from Browning-Ferris Industries, the county's main trash and recycling contractor, complained that the plan relied too heavily on governmental solutions.

The representatives said that the county would have more flexibility with a private contractor who would explore new technologies and markets to handle trash.

County Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, who represents the Alpha Ridge area, agreed that private sector solutions need to be considered.

"I think basically it's a good plan, but I think it needs to address the business sector," he said after the meeting.

Like members of both boards, Mr. Feaga said he was surprised to learn that about half of the county's waste -- that generated by businesses -- is already picked up by private haulers who sometimes ship it to out-of-state landfills.

Mr. Feaga said he had no problem with the county contracting to do that long-term, if necessary. Columbia resident Ann Buchard, a Sierra Club member, encouraged county officials to avoid incineration.

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