Odenton case spurs state to study possible racism in locating landfills

October 22, 1997|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

A hole in the ground in Odenton has become the unlikely catalyst in a statewide inquiry into whether landfills are unfairly steered into minority neighborhoods.

A decade-long battle over whether Chesapeake Terrace should open as a collection site for construction and demolition debris in western Anne Arundel County has taken a new turn, with state and federal environmental officials trying to determine whether residents of Wilson Town, a predominantly black community near the 481-acre property, are the victims of environmental racism.

For the first time, officials will look at the location of every landfill in Maryland and the racial and economic makeup of the surrounding communities.

That broad survey would have been conducted anyway, but it has been hastened by questions about Chesapeake Terrace, said W. Wallace Baker, director of the Office of Fair Practice in the Maryland Department of the Environment.

"People have come forward with allegations, but none have been pursued this far," Baker said.

Warren E. Halle and his Silver Spring company, National Waste Managers Inc., have been trying to open a rubble landfill in Odenton for years but have been stymied by the Anne Arundel County Council, which this week, for the second time in three years, struck the proposed facility from a draft solid waste management plan. The landfill must be listed in the plan before the Maryland Department of the Environment will grant it a permit.

In July, Halle won a Circuit Court ruling ordering the county to place Halle's landfill in its solid waste plan. The county is appealing.

Area residents say an operation that could bring as many as 600 dump trucks a day to their roads would ruin their quiet life, hurt the environment and endanger their health.

Wilson Town is the community closest to the proposed landfill entrance, and residents there have consistently joined with white residents of surrounding communities to oppose the facility in public hearings and in court.

But using charges of racial discrimination to fight the proposal is a new tactic, said community leaders and officials familiar with the case.

Pub Date: 10/22/97

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