Community organizations criticize state for backing landfill without a safeguard DNR stands to profit, from expansion, they say

November 07, 1995|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,SUN STAFF

Community organizations in the White Marsh area claim that state government has a conflict of interest in supporting expansion of a privately operated rubble landfill in Gunpowder Falls State Park without an environmental safeguard.

Opponents have tried to prevent the state from issuing a permit to double the size of the Days Cove rubble fill, and today they go before the Baltimore County zoning commissioner in an attempt to halt the expansion through local zoning regulations.

Their hopes of blocking the expansion may rest on a legal issue of whether county zoning law applies to private uses of state land.

At the least, the community groups want a requirement that the Days Cove rubble fill install a protective liner to minimize the risk of leakage of any hazardous materials.

Proposal delayed

But the state recently decided to hold off on proposed regulations that would have required all such rubble fills -- existing and future -- to have liners.

The opponents contend that the regulation was withdrawn because the added cost threatened to reduce the state's profits from a unique lease arrangement between the Department of Natural Resources and the fill operator, Days Cove Reclamation Co.

DNR receives $40,000 to $70,000 a month from Days Cove -- 25 percent of the tipping fees paid by customers to dump at the site.

The state Board of Public works approved the lease agreement between DNR and Days Cove in February 1992. It is the only such lease agreement in the state involving DNR, said Michael J. Nelson, the department's director of land enhancement services.

The Days Cove rubble landfill site takes in 456 acres of a 3,000-acre tract acquired by the state to enlarge the park in the late 1980s. The rubble fill already was in operation, as well as a sand and gravel quarry and sludge mix operation.

"We had to accept these operations as part of the deal," Mr. Nelson said.

DNR has not taken a position on the protective liner. Mr. Nelson said that is for state environmental officials to decide. But he conceded that the added cost of a liner -- estimated at $110,000 to $125,000 an acre -- would affect the proceeds DNR gets from the rubble landfill.

Sensitive area

The site of the Days Cove landfill -- close to the border of Baltimore and Harford counties, where the Bird and Gunpowder rivers meet -- is in an ecologically sensitive area. It is the only river delta in Maryland, natural resources officials say.

Two years ago, many of the communities opposed a private rubble landfill in the White Marsh area near Old Philadelphia and Cowenton roads. They were unable to defeat the project, but persuaded the zoning commissioner to require the operator to use a liner as a condition of approval.

"The zoning commissioner saw the necessity of requiring a liner for added protection, yet the state can't come to that same conclusion on the Days Cove rubble landfill," said Adam E. Paul Sr., president of the White Marsh Civic Association. "It doesn't make sense."

"The state just wants to protect its revenue source," said Marie Q. Simoes, president of the Nottingham Community Association east of White Marsh.

Rubble landfills are dumps for construction and demolition debris, and some contain hazardous materials. The regulations that the state has decided not to pursue for now would also have required rubble fills to have leachate collection systems.

More study proposed

Maryland Department of the Environment officials said a liner is not going to be required for the Days Cove project because engineering studies show there is no environmental danger.

A spokesman for the agency said in a written statement that the regulation was pulled to have more time to study its impact and had nothing to do with the expansion plans at Days Cove.

Mr. Nelson said state regulators closely monitor Days Cove and that DNR is satisfied with the operation. Even Ms. Simoes agrees.

"I researched all the inspection reports and found only two minor violations," Ms. Simoes said.

Larry Lee, president of the Bowerman-Loreley Beach Community Association, said the rubble fill's good track record is one reason his group is not opposing the expansion.

He acknowledged that the association is receiving thousands of dollars from Days Cove as a settlement of its opposition several years ago to a permit expanding the fill's height.

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