Reactivation of rubble landfill feared

April 09, 1995|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Sun Staff Writer

Concerned that a controversial Abingdon rubble landfill that was closed down by the state in 1992 might become active again, residents in the area have begun to organize for battle.

More than 50 people attended a public meeting in Bel Air Thursday night for an update from county lawyers on the landfill owner's appeal of a county zoning administrator's decision that it cannot resume surface mining.

Spencer Sand & Gravel Inc., which operated a private dump on about 55 acres on Abingdon Road, wants to resume mining on its property. Residents fear that more mining will mean a resumption of filling the mined-out area with potentially hazardous rubble.

"This is a back-door way of getting into the rubble fill operation," said Nila Martin, a resident of Eastridge Road. "The surface permit is going to create noise and dust and other problems. We need to say something now, do something about it now."

The rubble fill was ordered closed by the Maryland Department of the Environment in August 1992 after high levels of suspected carcinogens trichloroethylene and dichloroethylene were discovered in monitoring wells on the property.

Spencer had been trying for more than a year before that to expand its operation but ran into several snags, including allegations it already had expanded without state or county approval.

Despite the MDE ruling in 1992, the state Department of Natural Resources in September granted John W. Spencer Jr., owner of the family-run company, a renewal permit to resume surface mining on an additional 18 acres on the condition that the proposed operation comply with county zoning.

But in November, William Carroll, then planning director, informed Mr. Spencer that he could not resume mining without going before the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Mr. Spencer is appealing the ruling. Three consecutive hearings are scheduled before the hearing examiner on May 8, 15 and 22.

Robert Kahoe, who as the people's counsel for Harford County will represent the residents in the hearings, told them Thursday the case is one of narrowly framed legal questions.

Lawyers will be arguing whether the Spencers, who say they were mining on the property before zoning restrictions were imposed in 1957, have the right to expand that use to more of their land in the 1990s, when residential development has exploded around them.

He said statements about the negative effect of the landfill on the community will not be as critical to the case as documented history of the land's use over several decades.

"Your testimony is important if you have knowledge of what Spencer has done over the last 30 years," he told them.

"But Mr. Kahoe, what about my rights?" asked Mrs. Martin, who lives in the Village of Bynum Run, one of the largest subdivisions neighboring the landfill. "The county has put me there by permitting a developer to [build] hundreds of homes in that area."

About 470 homes stand within 500 feet of the property line of the Spencer operation, some less than a year old. Many of those in Woodland Run and the Village of Bynum Run were purchased by people who say they were unaware of the landfill's history.

Chris and Ellen Greaver, who moved into their Village of Bynum Run house two months ago, said they were not even aware that the hill behind their house was a rubble fill. Mrs. Greaver said real estate agents who sold them the new home said the land was "a natural resource area that can't be touched for 100 years."

Mr. Greaver, who said the huge mound of dirt was obscured from view by a stand of trees last summer when they purchased the house, said he has noticed that the dirt has been disturbed in recent weeks.

Tony Eckhardt, a Pouska Road resident who moved into a new house last September in the same development, said he has seen dump trucks at the top of the mound on recent afternoons. He said he frequently walks in the area and has noticed a foul odor and reddish water in the storm drainage area between his house and the rubble fill.

His wife, Linda, told attorneys she fears property values will drop if the rubble fill is allowed to operate again. She said she feels betrayed by the county.

"Harford County gets us to buy houses out here to increase revenues and then, boom, you have this happen . . . I'm afraid to even plant tomatoes now. We don't know what's in the soil."

Mr. Kahoe said, "The department of law is spending a lot of manpower to keep anyone from mining right up to your tomato plants. He said residents should increase their knowledge of zoning procedures during the next year when comprehensive rezoning is undertaken by the county.

"We did go and look at zoning maps," said another man who

moved into the area a couple years ago. "And we were told it was closed. We were led down the garden path."

He asked the county to routinely check the water runoff from the controversial site.

County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann is setting up 10 community planning councils to consider residents' concerns before zoning changes are approved.

Mrs. Martin, a member of the Abingdon-Emmorton Planning Council, said the Spencer property is a standing issue on the planning council's agenda. She urged others at the meeting to become familiar with the council and to spread the word in their neighborhoods and homeowner association meetings about the landfill's zoning appeal.

"Ultimately, it's people that are going to decide this case," she said, referring to the hearing examiner and the seven-member County Council, which sits as the Board of Zoning Appeals.

"If we stand up and scream, we can have impact."

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