High-class litter, except for the corpses

February 18, 1996|By Peter A. Jay

HAVRE de GRACE -- They're dumping bodies in Harford County again. This has been an occasional problem over the years, and it seems to be growing worse. It's one of the disadvantages of our position astride the I-95 ''transportation corridor,'' a location about which our economic-development people like to boast. Being less than an hour from anywhere in Baltimore doesn't help much either.

Other counties may have similar difficulties, but Harford seems to have particular appeal as a dumping ground. For years, drug dealers and others in the Baltimore homicide trade have found it convenient to mosey out here and leave their victims' trussed corpses in our woods.

The pair of bodies that turned up the other morning on one of the county roads were only the most recent in what sometimes seems an endless flow of cadavers with a high lead content.

In that instance police figured out who the victims used to be, but as often as not the remains aren't ever identified.

Identified or not, they present a public-works problem. Bodies can't just be left to decompose in the honeysuckle. They have to be collected, like all the rest of the roadside litter, and properly disposed of. They have to be stuffed into body bags, transported to the morgue, picked over by the medical examiners and finally buried.

All this handling costs money, and unlike the expenditures of the economic-development department, it isn't offset by any related revenues. Our vigilant local press pointed out the fiscal implications of unlicensed corpse disposal several years ago and called for action, but nothing was done. But now, with a renewed spirit of thrift animating local government, perhaps the time has come to consider the matter again.

Harford County traditionally operates on the theory that nobody should be allowed to dump anything here without paying a fee, and that nonresidents should pay a higher fee than locals. Most of us think that's fair. Our taxes have made the county landfill on Scarboro Road into the Taj Mahal of Maryland dumps, and residents fortunate enough to go there from time to time enjoy the experience and see no reason why they should subsidize it for outsiders.

The Scarboro dump is tidy and well organized. It has special places for old batteries, recyclables, old appliances, leaves and brush and so forth. Trucks are weighed coming and going, and pay by the pound. I believe these charges are called ''tipping fees.'' There are lower rates for residents bringing the occasional trunkload of household trash.

But business is business, and new business brought by non-residents willing to pay for it ought to be welcomed. The Scarboro landfill could reserve a dumpster for corpses, and charge a no-questions-asked fee to anybody bringing one in. The facility could be open around the clock for the convenience of those unable to come during regular business hours.

Satisfied customers

The lovely rural scenery, the discreet county employees at the landfill, and the user-friendly atmosphere of the entire facility would combine to make disposal of a murder victim a positive experience, well worth the reasonable charge. And there would be environmental benefits, too. Few satisfied customers would be likely to return to the furtive dumping of bodies on the county's back roads.

All who use this special service would be charged equally; there would be no lower rates for residents. (Traditionally, Harford County people with corpses to dispose of do it at home, or take them over to Cecil to the gravel pits.) In effect, the tipping fee would be a special tax on the corpse dumpers. A stiff tax, you might say.

This would benefit the visiting dumpers by providing them a useful service, and benefit Harford County by generating a little extra revenue for even better trash removal.

Out here, we suburbanites pride ourselves on our clean roadsides. The new adopt-a-road program is flourishing; Scout troops, civic groups and private individuals take responsibility for keeping a stretch of highway litter-free, and the county posts little signs designating everyone's territory.

The road right in front of our farm is currently picked up by Lyle Sheldon and his family. Then comes Jack Call's piece, followed by Bob Marks', and so forth. They do a great job. There's much less trash on the road now than when the neighborhood was truly rural.

Generally, our trash today is high-class -- imported beer bottles and the like. It's litter to be proud of. But all the bullet-riddled bodies from Baltimore are distressingly down-scale, and we need to take action now, before they begin to depress property values.

Peter A. Jay is a writer and farmer.

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