A regional composting facility serving Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Howard counties could open as early as Oct. 1 after winning approval last night from the Anne Arundel County Council.
The composting facility was approved by a 6-1 vote, despite spirited opposition from Councilman Thomas Redmond, a Pasadena Democrat, who argued the $5.9 million project is too costly and would leave Anne Arundel with an "open-ended obligation."
"As a business person, I look at this contract as a bad deal for the county," Mr. Redmond said. "This contract looks very one-sided to me."
Anne Arundel public works officials urged council members last night to approve a tri-county agreement to purchase and operate a composting plant on 55 acres in the Howard County portion of Jessup.
Baltimore and Howard counties already have approved the plant, which would be jointly owned and managed by Maryland Environmental Service (MES), a quasi public agency.
Until last year, those yard wastes often were buried in county landfills. The state outlawed that practice Oct. 1, 1994.
Since then, representatives of the three counties have devised plans to build a jointly owned composting center off Dorsey Road that could handle up to 30,000 tons of yard wastes annually. That represents only a fraction of the yard wastes collected by the three counties.
Mr. Redmond objected last night to a clause in the agreement with MES that would obligate the county to pay to dispose of at least 15,000 tons of yard waste at the plant every year for 20 years, whether or not it actually does. The agreement is expected to cost the county about $3.8 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Mr. Redmond said he believes private companies could provide more competitive prices. It is expected to cost about $36 for each ton at the regional facility. The councilman said a commercial composting company in Crofton can do it for about $15.
Officials with Anne Arundel's Department of Public Works, which manages its trash and recycling programs, conceded that the cost charged by the regional facility would be "slightly higher" than those charged by private vendors.
However, they noted that the three counties would own the 55-acre property, which they could sell if they decide to end the program.
"I don't believe the county should be in the speculative real estate business," Mr. Redmond said.
Public works officials also said the regional center would guarantee the counties a way of disposing of the yard wastes for the next 20 years. And because it would accept only a fraction of the yard waste generated by each county, the private sector would still have an opportunity to compost the rest, they said.
The yard waste, which will be dumped into 8-foot-high rows and turned periodically, should turn into compost in about 120 to 180 days, depending on the weather, officials said. The finished product will be sold by the private operator of the compost facility.
Each of the three counties would be obligated to dump a minimum amount of yard waste at the plant each year for 20 years under a joint operating agreement. A county would be required to pay tipping fees -- currently proposed at $36.17 a ton -- for that minimum, even if the county uses the plant less.
Anne Arundel would commit to sending the largest amount of yard waste, 15,000 tons, or a little more than half of the 25,000 tons it collects, annually.
Howard County has agreed to send 8,000 tons of grass and brush per year, which it will begin collecting from 14,000 homes in April. The rest of the county will have grass and brush collections by the end of the summer.
Baltimore County will be obligated to deposit at least 7,000 tons of yard waste each year, about one-third of its total collection, at the site.
Anne Arundel County currently sends yard waste to composting plants in Crofton and Prince George's County. But Anne Arundel solid waste officials fear those plants may not always be available to the county.
Members of the Anne Arundel County Solid Waste Advisory Committee advocate a combined yard and food waste compost center instead of the Jessup facility, and others decry the proposal that each county commit itself to paying $36.17 a ton for 20 years.