Unhappiness with compost odors lingers Nearby residents say they'll protest until yard closes

'Totally ruined our lives'

State officials say they have problem under control

March 15, 1996|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Maryland Environmental Service officials contend that they have control of the odor problem at their regional composting yard in Dorsey, but nearby residents say they will continue to raise a stink about the $5.9 million operation until it shuts down permanently.

"This thing does nothing but create odors all the time," said Donald Davis, who lives a couple of hundred feet from the Dorsey operation, which is on the Howard County-Anne Arundel County line. "These people have totally ruined our lives."

Howard County Councilman C. Vernon Gray, a Democrat who represents the Dorsey area, said, "I would hope it would work but I doubt it. The main thing is, it's entirely too close to the && residences.

"In the final analysis, if this problem persists, we'll probably have to close it down."

The composting yard, which is financed by a$5.9 million state bond, is off Route 176 just east of U.S. 1 on Dorsey Run Road. It is expected to process 30,000 tons of yard waste a year for Howard, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties.

The operation, which opened in November and until this month was operated by Browning-Ferris Industries, has been cited 13 times by the Maryland Department of the Environment for environmental violations.

Residents have complained of itching and burning eyes, headaches, respiratory discomfort and nausea.

Officials at the Maryland Environmental Service (MES), which also operates composting yards in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, said the violations resulted from rushed development and unfavorable weather when the Dorsey yard was under construction.

Those problems have been corrected, MES officials claim, and residents can expect only an "infrequent" odor from the operation.

"The odors that we were having were not normal," said Gre- gorio L. Africa, an operations chief for the waste management program at MES, a state agency which is taking over management of the operation from Browning-Ferris. "We're past that part now."

MES director James W. Peck said, "I think we can make it a good facility for the community. We do have experience and have demonstrated success."

The Dorsey yard, the state's only regional composting operation, is expected to handle 15,000 tons of yard debris a year from Anne Arundel County, 8,000 tons from Baltimore County and 7,000 tons from Howard County, said Welford McLellan, a spokesman for the MES.

Each county pays a tipping fee of $36 a ton in bags or $31 a ton in bulk, he said.

Saving landfill space

The composting yard is expected to save about 100,000 cubic yards of landfill space in the three counties, Mr. Africa said. That is what attracted officials in Howard, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties, who saw the joint venture as a milestone in waste management.

But the compost yard's physical operation is different in some important ways from the facilities MES successfully operates in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

For example, the Montgomery and Prince George's operations are a half- to three-quarters of a mile from residential communities. The Dorsey operation is within a few hundred feet of some houses.

And, unlike the Dorsey operation, the other two are paved, allowing machines to maneuver more easily through the sites and to turn over the piles of material more efficiently .

BFI, one of the county's contract trash haulers, had several concerns about the project when it began managing the operation in November, said Jim Stone, a local vice president of marketing for the company.

Those concerns included the difficulty of using machinery on the unpaved site.

MES and BFI agreed this month to end BFI's $425,000-a-year contract, and the state agency decided to manage the property itself.

Cooperative venture

Mr. Stone thinks MES will be able to handle the project, which he sees as an important cooperative venture among the three counties.

"I'm sure the equipment they have is what they need," he said.

Mr. Davis and other nearby residents say that although a regional composting operation is a good idea, the counties didn't consider the residents.

"I just think it was the wrong place to put it," said Pat Johenning, who lives on Elm Avenue on the Howard County side of the site. "I don't think it was well thought out at all."

Michelle Adams, a Howard County resident who lives on Lenox Avenue, said the community was inadequately informed about the composting yard. "I didn't even know it was here until I started smelling it," she said.

The operation has temporarily stopped accepting material but is expected to resume in the next few weeks.

Pub Date: 3/15/96

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