Reform for a stump dump Officials should consider case on today's merits, not yesterday's battles.

March 26, 1997

HOWARD COUNTY AND state regulators ought to be glad that Alfred S. Bassler has finally come around. A man who once seemed to enjoy flouting rules while operating his Clarksville stump dump says he wants to "get legal." He has taken the first step toward compliance by at least acknowledging that government has jurisdiction over the way his facility operates.

Mr. Bassler is asking the County Council to designate his stump dump, or waste-wood facility, a component of Howard's solid waste management plan. This designation could allow him to receive a special zoning exception from the Board of Appeals to accept tree stumps, branches and other debris from land-clearing on 39 of his 430 acres off Sheppard Lane. The once-recalcitrant property owner has deserved past criticism for his long-running feud with officials. But regulators have reason to welcome his newfound sense of responsibility.

The difficulty he created is not as important as the fact that he now wants to legally operate a facility that serves a public purpose. His is the only site in the county that accepts land-clearing debris, although man and machine are clearing huge chunks of earth daily for new construction. So long as there is development, there is a need for sites like this. Without it, plenty of stumps could have tumbled into the county's stressed landfill the past 19 years.

Moreover, Mr. Bassler's business is not a rogue dump -- or a dump of any kind, anymore. It is best described now as a lucrative compost facility.

Ever the entrepreneur, Mr. Bassler is making money at both ends at his operation. He charges a fee to accept debris, which decomposes on his property. After several years and some work, the material turns to high-quality topsoil, which he resells. Dr. Frank Gouin, chairman of horticulture and landscape architecture at the University of Maryland, calls Mr. Bassler's product "darn good topsoil."

The Maryland Department of the Environment agreed two years ago to allow Mr. Bassler to operate his landfill/compost facility on a trial basis. A decision by the County Council and Board of Appeals on whether to allow him to continue to operate should be based on today's merits, not yesterday's battles.

Pub Date: 3/26/97

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