Howard landfill: 'all bad choices'

January 12, 1994

Plunging into the messy and risky task of trying to solve Howard County's landfill problem seems a fruitless enterprise. Not only does the county face the problem of cleaning up two landfills that are closed and leaking contaminates, it also must deal with similar problems at its lone operating dump at Alpha Ridge.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker has offered what can be best described as a Band-Aid to patch a hemmorrhaging wound. He has proposed closing Alpha Ridge in two years, and sending the county's trash elsewhere until a regional solution is worked out on solid waste disposal. Such a solution would buy time for the county but is unlikely to please most of the parties involved. Already, murmurs of opposition are becoming audible.

Residents of Marriottsville, where Alpha Ridge is located, are frightened by the prospect that their wells are contaminated. They are unlikely to embrace a program that would delay closing the landfill for two years.

County officials, meanwhile, are leaning toward a long-term solution that would involve a regional incinerator. But neither Mr. Ecker nor the County Council has said the county would be willing to locate such a facility within its borders. Experts say new incinerator technologies are safe, although there are those who remember similar assurances about the landfills. Moreover, Mr. Ecker has his doubts about sending trash even temporarily to another jurisdiction, because it may expose the county to liability should its trash cause contamination elsewhere. Some clever contract writing may close that potential exposure.

But Mr. Ecker is right -- pawning off Howard's trash to another jurisdiction is ideologically rank. Moreover, some observers believe that the county, once hooked, would never stop trucking out its trash.

There is not a great deal of room to maneuver on this issue, although Mr. Ecker would like the community to accept his proposal as a compromise. Regardless of what is decided, the cost of cleaning up contamination, finding disposal alternatives and developing a long-term plan will set the county back many millions of dollars; even then, not all factions will be happy.

We subscribe to what Howard Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass said last winter when commenting on this dilemma: "It's all a compromise. They're all bad choices." Unfortunately, the choices cannot be avoided.

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