Stump dump owner moves 'to get legal,' drawing protests from his neighbors

March 19, 1997|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF

Alfred S. Bassler, the controversial owner of a Clarksville stump dump, has taken the first step toward making his 30-acre facility on Sheppard Lane in Clarksville comply with county and state regulations, a move that has drawn the protests of his neighbors.

"My big problem is that people are steadily complaining that I'm illegal," Bassler said of his request to the County Council to consider his dump an official wood-waste facility.

"This is just another attempt to get legal so I can keep on accepting whatever grows out of the ground and is biodegradable," he said.

Bassler's request -- which must be granted before he can seek a special zoning exception for the 20-year-old facility -- was criticized by about half dozen of the dump's neighbors who said they do not want the facility given legal status, but want it shut down.

They testified at a hearing Monday night that they fear an increase in traffic, fire danger and water contamination if Bassler's request is approved.

"All of a sudden, Bassler who has already not complied with county zoning regulations, wants the county to designate his facility as an official waste site," said Robert VanDyke, who has lived next door to the dump for seven years.

"It's like granting someone permission to practice medicine and they haven't gone to medical school," he said.

The council will vote on the request April 4.

Temporary shutdowns

For more than 10 years, Bassler has evaded county and state attempts to close the dump. When county zoning regulators moved against him, Bassler has said that he was accepting only brush and sticks -- allowed under the zoning -- not stumps. Various court orders have forced him to shut down temporarily.

The state Department of the Environment has been after Bassler to license the operation under 1988 regulations for such dumps that require stumps be completely covered with earth -- something Bassler has refused to do because he said it would keep air from getting to the wood and thus retard the composting process.

Two years ago, the state regulators agreed to let Bassler operate on an "experimental" level. The state was to check the material to make sure nothing other than wood was dumped at the site, allow Bassler to sell any compost or topsoil collected and require that he put the remaining material into new piles.

'An impasse'

Quentin Banks, a spokesman for Department of the Environment, said the situation has reached "an impasse."

"He's got to comply with the consent order to operate the facility and we've been checking, but there's still a humongous mound of wood waste to deal with that either he needs to grind up or ship off," he said.

But even if Bassler meets the department's regulations, the state will not issue him a permit to operate the dump unless he complies with county rules, including proper zoning.

The site is zoned for rural use, and he would need the special zoning exception to meet county requirements.

Screen for topsoil

Bassler said the dump's genesis was his attempts to fill in ravines with land-clearing debris such as stumps, limbs and brush in 1976. "It rotted so fast, I couldn't keep it filled. So I decided we might as well screen and get some topsoil," he said.

Under this process, Bassler continued piling up wood, allowed it to rot for five or six years, then ran it across a mesh screen.

This separates out compost-rich topsoil that is sold, primarily to landscapers, while the larger pieces of wood go back in a pile to continue rotting.

The operation has not pleased Bassler's neighbors.

Trucks, noise, dirt

"If Bassler is recognized as an official stump dump, there will be even more 18-wheeler trucks running up and down this scenic road," said Barbara Warfield, who has lived on the road since 1959. "Trucks bringing in stumps and brush, creating dust and noise just aren't in harmony with the quiet neighborhood along here."

There are also fears that if there was a fire at the site, it would spread quickly through the woods to neighboring houses. In 1989, a fire burned at least a week at the site and kindled fears of a fire like the one that burned in a Baltimore County stump dump for 18 months.

Pub Date: 3/19/97

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