Proposed expansion at closed rubble landfill worries Bynum Run residents

June 18, 1995|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Sun Staff Writer

A recent article about Spencer Sand & Gravel Inc.'s landfill in Abingdon misstated the number of chemical drums illegally dumped on the property in 1980 that were labeled "trichloroethylene." Only one of the 75 drums was so labeled, according to a Harford County Health Department inspector's report.

The Sun regrets the error.

Pam Burns has lived in the shadow of the Spencer rubble fill for less than a year, and she is worried.

When she and her neighbors on Pouska Road moved into their homes in the Village of Bynum Run in Abingdon last fall, they thought the problems at the now-closed landfill behind their homes were a thing of the past -- buried like so much rubble in the huge mound of earth behind their homes.


But, they have learned, the owners of the landfill would like to expand their operation on the 84 acres they own behind Mrs. Burns' house.

Now she and her neighbors fear that the mound of earth will grow larger, not to mention increase the noise, dust, odors and truck traffic that bedeviled neighbors when the rubble fill was in full operation.

"We thought it was closed permanently," Mrs. Burns said recently. "Now we're concerned that the rubble fill will open again and that it might become contaminated again. We don't want anything to get into the water or the stream behind our


Residents' fears stem from a recent permit from the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) allowing the landfill's owner, Spencer Sand & Gravel Inc., to resume surface mining on its land on the east side of Abingdon Road near Interstate 95.

Once a permit to dig a hole is granted, residents ask, can a permit for filling it with rubble be far away?

The track record of the rubble landfill, which the Spencer family has operated on the same site as its sand and gravel mining operation for about 15 years, is less than exemplary.

The landfill was cited by local and state environmental regulators for infractions ranging from illegal dumping to ground water contamination before it was shut down by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) nearly three years ago.

But residents' fears are premature, said Edward Dexter, chief of MDE's Solid Waste Compliance Division. He said the Spencer application to expand the rubble fill operation, which was filed in 1987, has been on hold since 1992, when the company's original rubble fill permit expired, and the landfill was forced to close.

He said the owners still have ground water problems to resolve and other work to do on the site of the existing landfill before the application for expansion can be moved back into MDE's active file.

Even then, Mr. Dexter said, the Spencer family may have to begin the rubble fill application process anew since both state and county laws regarding rubble fills have been tightened in recent years.

MDE doesn't regulate sand and gravel mining operations. That's the job of another state agency -- the Department of Natural Resources. It was DNR that gave the Spencer firm the go-ahead in September, contingent on Harford County zoning approval, to expand its surface mining on an additional 18 acres.

Harford zoning officials, however, didn't give their blessing, and the county and the Spencers landed in zoning court last month, debating whether the landowners have the right to expand their commercial operation in an area that has become increasingly suburban.

Development spurs issue

The Burns home, for instance, is one of more than 110 that have been approved for the Village of Bynum Run since the rubble fill closed in August 1992.

In all, more than 640 single-family homes have been built or approved for construction in the subdivisions immediately north, northeast and northwest of the Spencer property since 1990, said Arden Holdredge, Harford County's director of planning and zoning. "The majority of the people here aren't even aware of Spencer's history because they're so new to the area," said Nila Martin, a member of the Abingdon-Emmorton Community Planning Council who has been going door-to-door to inform her neighbors of the latest developments.

"It's become much more of an issue now that the area is being developed," said environmental attorney Jefferson Blomquist, one of the county's lawyers arguing against the mining expansion.

"It didn't have such an impact on human health or the quality of life then," he said of the time when the Spencers began mining decades ago.

In granting the surface mining permit to John W. Spencer Jr. in September, DNR said that Spencer Sand & Gravel could mine an additional 18 acres on the east side of Abingdon Road on the hTC condition that it was "in compliance with local zoning requirements."

County doesn't give blessing

But Harford County planning and zoning officials contend that under existing zoning laws, Spencer Sand & Gravel must apply for a "special exception" standing, which is required to expand a commercial venture in a residential zone.

The Spencers appealed that decision to the county's zoning hearing examiner.

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