Farmer ordered to stop filling Harford wetland

July 16, 1995|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Sun Staff Writer

The Army Corps of Engineers has ordered Harford County farmer Michael J. Kozub to stop the dumping of dirt, concrete and other debris from state highway projects on his property next to Bynum Run.

The corps sent a "cease and desist" order to Mr. Kozub by registered mail last week. The Abingdon farmer received it Friday.

Based on a review of aerial photographs and other documents, corps officials said Mr. Kozub has filled an acre or more of federally regulated wetlands bordering Bynum Run, a state-designated trout stream and a tributary of the Bush River. Such filling without a permit violates the federal Clean Water Act.

"It's about time," said Nila Martin, community activist who lives about a quarter-mile from Mr. Kozub's farm. "We've got a landfill that is not regulated, and if it continues to happen, someone's going to answer for this," she said.

The order, which corps officials said requires an immediate halt to the dumping, comes at least four years after Mr. Kozub began filling a ravine on his 113-acre MJK Ranch on Hookers Mill Road. Bynum Run flows through the ravine about 40 yards from one side of the 3-acre area being filled by Mr. Kozub.

The corps' order also comes less than two weeks after a Sun article on Mr. Kozub's farm noted that contractors for the State Highway Administration were dumping loads of dirt and debris there regularly. Some construction contractors working for Harford County also dumped there, but Harford officials ordered them to stop taking material to Mr. Kozub's farm early last year.

The corps could require Mr. Kozub to restore the filled wetlands, said Doug Garman, spokesman for the corps' Baltimore district office. He said the State Highway Administration and its contractors -- or others who participated in the dumping -- also could be held liable for the filling of wetlands and be required to help restore the land.

"Ultimately, restoration is our No. 1 choice," Mr. Garman said.

Violators of federal wetlands regulations are subject to fines of up to $125,000 per day, five years in jail or both. Mr. Garman said the corps planned to visit the farm soon and inspect the landfilling operation.

"We are going to proceed to challenge this," said Mr. Kozub's attorney, Avrum M. Kowalsky of Bel Air. Mr. Kowalsky said he wasn't sure whether the dumping would stop.

Mr. Kozub, who has about 30 head of cattle and runs a custom butcher operation, estimates he has accepted 5,000 dump truck loads of dirt and debris.

He has argued that the fill is creating pastureland and stopping erosion. But Harford officials said he appears to be filling land for a 3,000-foot grass airstrip.

Mr. Kozub tried unsuccessfully to obtain approval from Harford officials in 1990 for the airstrip and said recently that he would like to operate an air taxi service. "If it turns out to be level and applicable for an airstrip, that's to my advantage," Mr. Kozub said.

Neighbors near Mr. Kozub's farm said they have complained repeatedly about dump trucks going into MJK Ranch. They said they were frustrated that the county and the state were unable to control the dumping.

Mitch Shank, a Harford County Council member whose district includes the Kozub farm, said he was concerned that the dumping continued for so long before county officials formally requested "enforcement assistance" from state and federal agencies, including the corps. That request was made in a letter sent by the county Law Department dated June 23.

"It's obvious that they have been slow in reacting to the needs and concerns of the citizens," Mr. Shank said. He has asked county officials for all documents on the Kozub case.

Some of those documents show that State Highway Administration officials agreed to tell their contractors to stop dumping at the farm as early as January 1993. But state contractors working on Route 22 in Churchville continued to dump material at the farm last week.

Jefferson L. Blomquist, Harford's deputy county attorney, said Harford officials are frustrated by the state's unwillingness to stop its contractors from dumping at Mr. Kozub's farm.

"The State Highway Administration has a history of being concerned only with getting their projects done above all else," Mr. Blomquist said. "We're [Harford] certainly not a white knight and spotless. But I think people need to focus a little more on the state."

State Highway Administration officials said they have no control over where their contractors dump debris. Because the corps' order was directed at Mr. Kozub, he is responsible for stopping the contractors, said Charles R. Harrison, a regional highway engineer.

Mr. Kozub, a 66-year-old former civilian employee at the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground, has argued that he is entitled to accept "clean fill" -- mainly dirt, concrete and asphalt -- on his property. He said that as a farmer, he is not required to obtain county grading permits and prepare a government-approved plan for controlling soil erosion from the dump site.

But Maryland law requires landowners to obtain state permits to dump material such as metal, plastic, stumps -- those items were visible at Mr. Kozub's landfill June 29 -- and other material on their property.

Edward Dexter, chief of the state Department of Environment's Waste Management Administration, inspected Mr. Kozub's farm

Thursday. The results of the inspection were not immediately available.

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