Council OKs $455,000 for lawyers in suit against 3 insurers of landfills

January 22, 1995|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Sun Staff Writer

The Harford County Council has approved spending $455,000 from the county's self-insurance fund to cover final bills for outside counsel in a long-standing suit against three companies that have insured Harford's landfills over 24 years.

County Attorney Ernest Crofoot said payment of the latest legal bill, covering settlement costs, brings to $2,807,000 the county's total payment to Anderson, Kill, Olick and Oshinksy.

The national firm, based in Washington and New York, specializes in insurance-recovery litigation.

The county filed a declaratory judgment action against the three insurers in 1990, seeking compensation for landfill remediation, environmental assessments and damages to third parties related to the cleanup of seven Harford landfills. The suit was settled Dec. 7, Mr. Crofoot said.

He would not discuss the terms, citing confidentiality provisions in the final agreement. He did say that "it was a favorable termination of the suit," and told the council that the legal fee was "money well spent."

"We had claims we wanted to make under our coverage at all the landfills," Mr. Crofoot said later.

The three companies are the Insurance Co. of North America in Philadelphia, which insured the landfills from 1958 to 1965; Harford Mutual, of Bel Air, which insured them from 1965 to 1980; and the Home Insurance Co., of New York, which insured them from 1980 to 1982.

County landfills have primarily been covered under the county's self-insurance fund since 1982.

The county charter requires the council's approval of any expenditure for outside legal counsel.

The council approved the latest payment with little discussion Tuesday, although District D Councilman Barry Glassman said $455,000 was a lot of money "for six months' work." He said the council approved $700,000 for pretrial work in July.

"I just thought the county could have done a better job estimating the cost of litigation," Mr. Glassman said later, "although in the end the overall cost was in line with the recovery."

Mr. Crofoot said the latest bill appeared to be unusually high because litigation accelerated in the fall just before the settlement was reached.

The council also approved Tuesday the transfer of $2.45 million within the Solid Waste Capital Projects Fund from the Tollgate landfill remediation fund to projects at the Scarboro landfill near Dublin and the Bush Valley landfill in Abingdon.

The money is available because the low bid on capping the Tollgate landfill -- $3.5 million from Crouse Construction Co. Inc. -- came in more than $3 million lower than expected last summer.

"We hit the bottom of the construction season, when they [construction companies] were all extremely hungry," county Treasurer James Jewell told the council.

Mr. Jewell said $1.75 million of the transferred funds will be used to pay for excavating and lining two new cells at the Scarboro Solid Waste Disposal Site, the newer portion of the landfill.

An additional $500,000 will be used to begin remediation efforts at the old Scarboro landfill, next to the facility in use.

Harford officials recently signed an agreement with the Maryland Department of the Environment to install an interim ground water treatment system around the perimeter of the old landfill, which was used from 1956 through 1986 and capped in 1987.

The system will pump ground water to the surface so contaminants can be removed, said Jefferson Blomquist, deputy county attorney. He said work on the treatment system will begin within the next few months.

The remaining $200,000 will pay for oversight costs incurred by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of the Environment at the Bush Valley Landfill on Route 7.

Bush Valley, which operated from 1974 to 1982, is on the federal Superfund list of hazardous materials sites.

Its cleanup is being done by the county under the supervision of the EPA, which charges the county for its work.

In other business Tuesday, the council:

* Confirmed the executive appointment of Joseph Pfaff, 51, as director of Harford County's Department of Parks and Recreation. Mr. Pfaff is a 29-year veteran of Baltimore County's parks department, where he was last head of regional maintenance.

* Agreed to advertise the council secretary's job in local newspapers. The executive post will pay $36,728 to $48,885 a year.

The post was vacated in December by Doris Poulsen, who was seriously injured in an auto accident in June 1993. Assistant Council Attorney James Vannoy has been acting secretary since Mrs. Poulsen's accident.

The secretary is responsible for administrative functions, and for supervising the secretarial, clerical and professional employees of the council.

* Heard County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann formally introduce Arden Holdredge, whom she appointed Jan. 12 to head the Department of Planning and Zoning.

The council must confirm the appointment within 30 working days. Meanwhile, the council voted to extend Mrs. Holdredge's term as acting director for 45 more calendar days.

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