Officials knew of farmer's dump

July 02, 1995|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Sun Staff Writer

An Abingdon farmer has operated an unlicensed landfill on his property for at least four years with the full knowledge of local and state governments -- whose construction contractors were major users.

Highway and construction contractors for the State Highway Administration and Harford County began dumping at the 3-acre site in 1991, according to public records and interviews.

The two agencies have allowed their contractors to deposit thousands of truckloads of dirt, concrete, asphalt and other materials at Michael J. Kozub's 113-acre MJK Ranch south of Bel Air. At the same time, state and county officials have tried to regulate the dumping, and failed.

Trucks from state road construction projects on Route 7 in Abingdon and Route 22 in Churchville and from the construction of a water treatment plant on Abingdon Road built by Harford County have been among the dozens dumping there every week.

"I'm definitely concerned about what's going on," said Mitch Shank, a Harford County Council member whose district includes the farm.

Susan B. Heselton, another member of the council, said, "I'm just appalled that we have been a party to this. We have no idea at all what is being dumped there. We could have moved forward on this and prosecuted this a long time ago."

Harford officials said no county contractors have dumped at the farm since early last year, but dump trucks operated by contractors for the highway administration continued to roll into the farm last week.

SHA has no control over where its contractors dump, C. Robert Olsen, chief engineer for the highway administration, said.

On June 23, one day after The Sun requested documents from the county's file on Mr. Kozub's farm, Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann for the first time formally sought "enforcement assistance" from Jane Nishida, secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), and other state and federal officials.

Some MDE officials have visited Mr. Kozub's farm in the past year. The agency plans to send a landfill inspector to the farm soon, said MDE spokesman George Krause.

At issue is whether Mr. Kozub's landfilling operation is exempt from regulation because it is related to his farming or whether he is defying regulation and actually filling the land to construct an airstrip -- as Harford officials contend and some county records support -- for which he has no zoning approval.

The dispute has been anything but polite. Mr. Kozub has complained of "constant harassment" and threatened legal action against one county inspector who alleged that Mr. Kozub was carrying a shotgun when he forced him to leave the farm. Mr. Kozub denied that charge.

In September, Harford officials ordered Mr. Kozub to stop the landfilling and obtain required grading and sediment- and erosion-control permits. But the order quickly was rescinded after Mr. Kozub's attorney threatened to fight the county in court.

Mrs. Rehrmann said her administration only recently sought help from state and federal agencies in regulating the landfill because of complaints by residents in the last two weeks. However, some residents said they complained about the landfill and truck traffic months ago.

Harford officials acknowledged they have been unwilling to challenge Mr. Kozub in court because they feared he might prevail, based on a provision of state law and a Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruling in a 1987 case involving a Howard County farmer.

Mr. Kozub and his attorney said an exemption to state law allows farmers to deposit some material, mainly dirt, on their land if the practice is directly related to growing crops or raising livestock.

But the Harford Soil Conservation District, an arm of the the U.S. Department of Agriculture that advises local and state agencies on soil erosion issues, officially has ruled that the exemption cited in the Howard case should not apply to Mr. Kozub.

"He wants to turn a gently rolling farm into a flat farm," said Gary A. Davis, manager of the Soil Conservation District.

An examination of documents and maps shows that the area being filled matches an area where, in 1990, Mr. Kozub unsuccessfully sought zoning approval for a 3,000-foot grass airstrip. He also does not have Federal Aviation Administration approval for an airstrip.

He said the landfilling operation is necessary to create pastureland and stop erosion.

"If it turns out to be level and applicable for an airstrip, that's to my advantage," Mr. Kozub said.

Mr. Kozub said he envisions running an air taxi service to Baltimore-Washington International Airport for executives and others doing business in Harford and surrounding counties.

In a four-page letter -- sent June 23 to Ms. Nishida and other MDE officials, the Army Corps of Engineers in Baltimore and the Soil Conservation District -- Deputy County Attorney Jefferson L. Blomquist said Harford lacks the power to stop the dumping "without a major and protracted legal battle."

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