Howard gets $20 million for cleanup of 3 landfills

April 26, 1995|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

County governments in Maryland may find it a little easier to clean up landfills, now that Howard County has asked for -- and received -- low-cost federal loans to do just that.

The state Department of the Environment announced Monday that for the first time it would make available such low-interest loans for the purpose of capping landfills and treating the ground water the landfills pollute.

Howard will receive more than $20.5 million to cap its three landfills with waterproof barriers, install pipes to collect explosive methane gas and pump water out of the ground to strip it of contaminants.

The loans will be at about two-thirds of market interest rates -- and that could translate into major savings for taxpayers, county officials say.

For example, if the market interest rate were 6 percent, the county would pay 4.2 percent under the program.

That would save $300,000 a year in interest, or about $6 million for the 20-year life of the loan, said Budget Director Raymond S. Wacks.

That could be good news for other counties across the state struggling with ground water contamination from landfills.

Maria Markham Thompson, director of the Maryland Water Quality Financing Administration, said a recent study showed that local governments' landfill cleanup costs could total as much as $200 million.

Howard County will use most of the loan money to cap the landfills -- an activity state environmental officials were not sure could be financed under the 8-year-old Maryland Water Quality Revolving Loan Fund.

That fund, made up in large part by grants from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has been used primarily for sewage treatment systems and extending sewer lines.

"There was a lot of debate over whether [landfill capping projects] would be eligible," Ms. Thompson said.

Last week, the EPA agreed with Howard County's assertion that the loans could be used for that purpose.

Yesterday, county officials were pleased to hear that their loans had been approved.

"It's good news for the county," said county Public Works Director James M. Irvin. "They'd never done [landfills] before, so we weren't sure whether they would be applicable."

If the water quality financing had fallen through, the capping, gas collection and ground water treatment would have taken place on schedule, but the county would have had to sell bonds to pay for the work.

With financing confirmed, construction of a cap and pollution controls at the Alpha Ridge Landfill in Marriottsville and the closed Carr's Mill Landfill in Woodbine should begin in about a year and be completed in nine months.

Construction at the New Cut Road Landfill in Ellicott City is expected to begin about the time the other two landfills are completed.

New Cut will take about a year.

Joy Bloom, who lives across the road from Carr's Mill Landfill, said she hopes some of the county's savings can be used to solve the problem of contamination from an illegal toxic dump on the edge of the landfill property.

Residents have asked the county to remove contaminated dirt from the site, where nearly 900 industrial waste drums lay buried for 18 years.

But county officials prefer a cheaper cleanup alternative.

Shipping the dirt to a hazardous waste landfill would cost about $1.2 million, and county waste officials say they could not ensure that toxic solvents would not keep migrating from the site into ground water.

Their preference is to extract solvent vapor from the soil at a cost of about $92,000.

Waste Management Chief John J. O'Hara said the newly available financing option probably would not affect that decision.

Such choices are based more often on the cost of a project and not its financing, he said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Wacks said, interest savings on the new loans could enable the county to borrow an additional $3 million for other capital projects.

The savings could allow the county to increase its borrowing for projects such as roads and schools, said County Executive Charles I. Ecker.

But that won't happen until after the current capital budget now being considered, he said.

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