Residents protest stream of landfill-bound trucks

January 04, 1995|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,Sun Staff Writer

The two-lane route in Harwood has all the markings of a classic country road. That is, until the daily caravan of 18-wheel trucks arrives.

Over the past year, residents say, the daily truck traffic to and from a rubble landfill in the South County community has turned the serpentine road into something more like the New Jersey Turnpike. Worse, they say, many of those trucks are dumping from out of state.

The landfill's owner, P.S.T. Reclamation Inc., wants to open another section where rubble, discarded construction materials, can be dumped. Residents are urging the state's Department of the Environment to postpone that expansion.

They will make their plea at 7 p.m. today during a public hearing at Southern Senior High School in Harwood.

"We moved to the country to get away from the noises of the city and the traffic on the Beltway, and what do we end up with, our very own Beltway," Mike Prokopchak said as he pointed toward the street, where trucks could be heard rumbling by even with the doors and windows closed.

Mr. Prokopchak left Greenbelt 18 years ago for what he thought would be a quieter home in the 4000 block of Sands Road. And it was, he said, until two years ago, when the landfill opened down the road.

School buses and tractor-trailers crowd the tree-lined road, he said, and noise from the trucks awakens his neighbors before 6:30 a.m.

P.S.T. said it is being blamed for troubles that aren't its fault. Company officials say P.S.T. has been a model neighbor, donating $200,000 over the last two years to pay for local civic association activities. The company also has paid for a county inspector and $30,000 for local traffic control.

"We try to work with the community," said Torrence Lewis, P.S.T.'s environmental manager. "We exist here. We're operating business here. And beyond that, we try to make sure drivers are behaving on the road."

P.S.T. estimates that 200 to 300 trucks use the 80-acre Sands Road site each week. Residents say the number is closer to 400. Trucks from Virginia, New Jersey and Pennsylvania regularly dump at the landfill.

P.S.T. officials say about 45 acres at the site are unused. They see the public hearing as one of the last hurdles P.S.T. must clear before it can expand.

"I would say there are not enough rubble landfills," Mr. Lewis said. "That means there are fewer options for people dumping in the state."

Last spring, a landfill in Prince George's County started turning away 100 to 200 loads of rubble a day. The P.S.T. rubble landfill, one of 15 in the state, is taking in much of what was to be dumped at the Prince George's landfill.

But Maryland law is the main reason P.S.T. is so busy.

Maryland does not require rubble landfills to be lined, and its dumping rates are lower, said Edward Dexter, chief of the solid waste compliance division of the state Department of the Environment. Last year, the legislature defeated a bill that would have required linings, but Mr. Dexter's team is working for a state regulation requiring such linings.

P.S.T. argues that its landfills have natural clay linings that are 25 feet thick and that state regulations are therefore not needed.

Dumping costs are higher when the sites are lined, said Mr. Dexter, explaining why many disposal companies in the Northeast make the drive to P.S.T.'s site. Maryland's rubble-dumping fees range from $45 to $65 a ton. Per-ton fees in other states range from $70 to more than $90.

Some residents worry that toxic materials are being dumped at the landfill. Rhonda Zinn, who lives a few minutes from the site, said no one knows what falls off the trucks because dumping begins at 7 a.m., before the county landfill inspector goes on duty.

"There's no big control out there watching what trucks are bringing to the landfill," Ms. Zinn said. "We all get our waters from wells here, so we're concerned about things leaking into that supply."

She and other residents say they hope the state will block the P.S.T. expansion until it resolves the issue of landfill lining.

Some residents have an even taller order. Of the 35 homes in the neighborhood, only three have sold in the last year. Property values are going down, they warn, and the only way to reverse the trend is to halt expansion of the landfill.

"The bottom line is, I want to stop that doggone thing," said Tim Freeman, an eight-year resident who wants to form an independent neighborhood action group. "We have zero-tolerance for expanding the landfill."

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