The smell of failure Regional compost: Persistent odors undid tri-county yard waste facility in Dorsey.

November 21, 1996

MARYLAND ENVIRONMENTAL Service apparently has decided to throw in the towel on its ill-starred regional yard waste facility in Dorsey.

What had been designed as a composting plant will now become a mere transfer station for trash. Leaves, grass clippings and other yard waste will be collected at the plant, but then shipped to other MES facilities for composting.

Declaring this ambitious experiment a failure may be premature, but the project has certainly fallen far short of expectations.

Since opening 13 months ago, the 56-acre facility has been plagued by operating problems. Located just inside Howard County's border with Anne Arundel County, it was run as a joint venture by those two jurisdictions and Baltimore County.

Unfortunately, the plant generated offensive odors that made life miserable for neighbors. They have filed more than 200 complaints with state environmental officials, and have sued MES for $22 million in damages.

Despite a change in managers and a number of technological fixes, MES was never able to compost the organic matter without producing a great deal of odor.

Environmental experts differ on how to remove the smell of decomposing vegetation. Some say that the grass clippings, with their high moisture and nitrogen content, should not be mixed with leaves. Others believe that composting on a paved surface instead of on soil, as MES does in two other facilities, would have lessened the stench.

Composting is a successful way to dispose of organic waste. The size of this multi-jurisdictional facility might have been too grandiose. It was designed to process 30,000 tons annually. Perhaps if the composting had been done on a small scale and gradually increased, the process might have been more successful.

MES will continue to convert yard waste to compost at its other plants. The fate of the $5.9 million Dorsey complex is uncertain. ,, Residents, some of whom live as close as 200 feet from the plant, would like it shut permanently.

Considering the investment and the need to obtain some return on it, that possibility seems remote. In all likelihood, MES will try to make more neighborly use of the property.

Pub Date: 11/21/96

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