Maryland Environmental Service halts operations at regional composting facility Move is temporary

Dorsey yard hit with complaints, lawsuit

November 13, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

For now, the experiment is over.

Stung by complaints about stench and a lawsuit, the Maryland Environmental Service this week temporarily stopped composting at the $5.9 million regional yard-debris facility in Dorsey.

Debris to be hauled away

Instead, the 56-acre yard will be used as a transfer station for dead leaves and grass clippings from the three participating counties. MES will continue to gather debris from Anne Arundel, Howard and Baltimore counties there, but will haul the waste to another MES composting center in Prince George's County.

The quasi-public agency will use this fall and next spring to assess options for what to do next, said Sean L. Coleman, assistant Maryland attorney general for MES. That could range from selling the property to returning there to try again.

"The decision is overdue," said Brian A. Moore, who lives on the Anne Arundel side of the yard and is among more than 20 people who filed a $22 million lawsuit against the operation.

Bonds to pay off

Whether the facility, hailed as an experiment in regional cooperation, becomes a pricey white elephant remains to be seen. There are 20-year bonds to pay off, and trucking away the debris will add to the cost of operations.

Thomas Dernoga, lawyer for the site's opponents, said that while "the taxpayers should not take a bath on this," the MES decision to halt operations may not settle the lawsuit brought by neighbors who say the plant never should have been built near a residential area.

About 9,000 tons of the first season's product is too dirt-laden to be used as soil-enriching compost, though Coleman said MES is working to find a use for it.

Mountains of leaves

Meanwhile, it will remain at the Dorsey location. This season's leaves are creating mountains that Coleman said MES is trying to move out as quickly as possible.

The yard, in Howard County on the Anne Arundel County line, has been bedeviled by problems since it opened Oct. 1, 1995.

Nearby residents lodged more than 200 complaints with state environmental officials. The complaints ranged from the stench caused by decaying matter to insects attracted to the site. Vandals destroyed equipment and the site flooded.

Health problems

Anne Arundel resident Walter Wieland said he had to move an oxygen tank into his home to lessen his wife's health problems. He also complained that his three sons miss school because of respiratory problems aggravated by the compost site.

"They can't go outside and play," Wieland said. "All we do is run back and forth to the doctors."

MES blamed its problems on an unusually rainy year. The equipment that stirs the rotting vegetation pulled mud from the unpaved site into the mixture, making it useless as compost.

Paved and unpaved

The agency's compost plants in Prince George's and Montgomery counties are paved, but Coleman would not say the Dorsey site had a faulty design, noting that other compost yards are unpaved.

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker said he was sorry the compost yard failed, but noted "we need a transfer station somewhere."

Howard County Councilman C. Vernon Gray, an East Columbia Democrat, proposed a resolution last month urging the county administration to shut down the compost facility.

But the council delayed action while administration officials worked to resolve problems at the facility.

Anne Arundel County officials had no comment yesterday.

Pub Date: 11/13/96

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