Executive campaign's hidden issue: environment CAMPAIGN 1994

November 06, 1994|By John A. Morris and Andrea F. Siegel | John A. Morris and Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writers Sun staff writers Carol L. Bowers and Kris Antonelli contributed to this article.

The environment has taken a back seat during the county executive campaign to poll-driven issues such as crime and education. But it will be among the most pressing matters the new government will have to address.

Little has been said about where the county will build a new 500-acre landfill that will carry a price tag of at least $500 million. Or how it will comply with new federal clean water standards that could require rebuilding storm water drains countywide.

"It's not a sexy issue," said Frank W. Alduino, coordinator of the political science department at Anne Arundel Community College. "They are real important issues to this county."

Four years ago, in the wake of the 20th anniversary of Earth Day, the environment figured more prominently.

"I think there are several reasons" why the environment is not a hot issue this year, Mr. Alduino said. "First, the glamour issue is violence -- violence and crime. We are inundated with the horrific crime of the day."

"Plus the economy -- a lot of us are worried about the economy, which is somewhat confusing to me. The economy seems to be chugging along. But many of us are not convinced that the good times indeed are back," he said.

When people think of county services, Mr. Alduino said, they don't stop to think where the trash goes after it is picked up at the curb.

The county needs to spend $87 million by the end of the decade to clean up and expand its only landfill, located in Millersville.

More than $30 million will be needed to upgrade sewage treatment plants to meet Chesapeake Bay initiatives by 1998.

The biggest cost, and the one neither candidate has addressed head-on, is the county's need for another landfill. Millersville will be full by 2008. Replacing it could cost more than $1 million an acre.

The next county executive also must weigh whether to build a trash incinerator.

Environmental groups have endorsed Democrat Theodore J. Sophocleus, citing his broad environmental plan and what they see as Republican John G. Gary's poor environmental voting record.

"His environmental voting record is extremely poor," said Joan S. Willey, chairwoman of the Maryland League of Conservation Voters. "He has not been an environmental voting champion."

Mr. Gary has drafted a plan to ship some solid waste out of state, establish a county-owned rubble landfill or make better use of existing private rubble fills and introduce new technologies to help restaurants better dispose of their garbage. He also proposed shipping trash to an upgraded Baltimore incinerator and has acknowledged the need to build a new county landfill.

In his environmental blueprint, Mr. Sophocleus has proposed ending the county's policy of allowing waivers to the adequate-facilities ordinance, a law designed to prevent development in areas where roads and schools already are inadequate. He also would establish a task force of community leaders, environmentalists, builders and others to draft a common land-use policy, plant 1 million trees -- about 685 per day -- and 200 acres of marsh grass in four years, and expand energy and water conservation programs in county office buildings.

Crime

Although police statistics show overall crime declining in the county, crime is the leading issue according to public opinion polls in this year's campaigns. An Anne Arundel Community College poll last month found 22 percent of the county residents surveyed citing crime as the most important issue.

Police say fewer crimes were committed during the first six months of 1994 than in the same period last year. Serious crimes, such as homicide, rape and theft, fell by 3.4 percent.

Robert Agee, an unsuccessful Democratic primary candidate for county executive, said the county is in the grips of a "crisis of fear." Residents simply don't feel safe in their communities and the county needs to respond to their fear, he said.

Both Mr. Sophocleus and Mr. Gary have proposed hiring more police officers to shrink patrol areas and decrease police response times. The idea is popular among the rank-and-file police officers who say the county's 550-officer force is not large enough.

Mr. Sophocleus has proposed adding 49 officers in the first two years and then re-evaluating the needs of the force. Mr. Gary pledged to hire 20 a year over his four-year term.

Many police officers wonder if those increases would be enough. During the primary, police Cpl. Larry Walker, then a Democratic candidate, said the county needed at least 200 more officers.

Additional officers are needed in North and West County districts where police receive high volumes of calls. In the rural Southern District, police get fewer calls but cover a larger area.

"Personally, that [200 new officers] hits it closest to the head," said Officer Dennis Howell, president of the police union that has endorsed Mr. Sophocleus. "But realistically speaking, about 25 a year over the next four years should do it."

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