Buried Time Bombs

June 28, 1994

Imagine walking out to pick up the morning paper and discovering a gaping hole in your driveway. Or mowing your grass and having the wheel of your mower swallowed up by the earth. Or watching your children dodge a 10-foot pit as they play ball in the yard.

A number of home owners in Carroll don't have to imagine any of these possibilities; they have experienced them. In the past four years, 52 of the 300 sinkholes reported to the county's Bureau of Water Resource Management were created by decaying construction debris that was buried by home builders.

These sinkholes occur when construction companies dig big trenches and bury beneath a few feet of soil the trees, stumps and shrubs they cleared from the building site. After a few years, the branches and trunks rot and the weight of the soil covering the debris causes the ground to settle, or, in some cases, collapse. Some of these holes have been as large as 20 feet in diameter and as deep as 14 feet.

In response to this problem, the county is proposing an ordinance that would prohibit builders from burying vegetation, broken cinder blocks and other construction refuse. Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Frederick counties prohibit burying construction debris. The county's Environmental Affairs Advisory Committee is studying whether Carroll should have a similar ordinance.

Home builders, who claim they are no longer doing as much on-site burial as in the past, are nevertheless mobilizing against the proposal. They claim that requiring them to grind or remove this debris will add to the cost of houses. This argument makes no sense, particularly to the Carroll residents who have paid thousands of dollars to purchase gravel and top soil to fill these sinkholes that have appeared on their property. These unfortunates probably would have gladly paid for the cost of proper disposal instead of paying for the substantial repairs they now must make to their properties.

Rather than allow home builders to continue to shift the costs and problems of construction debris disposal to unsuspecting home buyers, the county commissioners should enact the proposed legislation. It is time for them to put the welfare and the pocketbooks of the majority of new home owners ahead of the interests of developers.

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