Compost site closed, but 3 counties to pay interest on bonds until 2005

March 15, 1998|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

The once malodorous compost yard shared by Anne Arundel, Howard and Baltimore counties has been turned into a transfer station for yard clippings, and all three counties recently approved selling most of the 54-acre Jessup/Hanover property.

But the counties still have to shell out interest payments, which will total $2.8 million by the time bonds on the property are paid off in 2005. Anne Arundel's share of that is about $1.4 million, according to County Auditor Teresa Sutherland.

Anne Arundel County Councilman Thomas W. Redmond has long been skeptical about a deal that burdened the county with 50 percent of liability for a project and didn't allow private composters a share in handling yard waste.

"Everything was too expensive," he said of the agreement the County Council approved in May 1995.

The Maryland Environmental Service closed the composting operation in November 1996 after nearby residents filed 200 complaints about sickening odors and sued MES and the counties for $22 million.

Sutherland warned of potential cost pitfalls for the county in 1995, before the council approved the agreement to build the project on 54 acres in Howard County, bordering Anne Arundel.

With no guarantees on processing fees and the potential for added costs to the counties if the facility had cost overruns, "We are unable to determine the fiscal impact of this bill," Sutherland, then acting county auditor, wrote in a memo to the council.

But MES and administration officials this week defended the attempt at regional composting and now the sale of the compost yard.

Rock Realty Inc. of Randallstown has agreed to purchase 51 of the 54 acres for $3 million, according to James W. Peck, MES director. The three remaining acres house the transfer station, from where the counties' yard waste is sent to Prince George's County for composting.

The sale will allow the counties to pay off the bonds by 2005 instead of 2015, according to Peck. The counties will still send their yard waste for composting, and the transfer station property could be valuable once the buyer of the other 51 acres develops the land, he said.

"The material is being kept out of landfills," said Peck. "All of the benefits are being achieved."

And the counties will also soon collect their share of revenues from the sale of Leafgro, the compost that MES sells to lawn and garden retailers, he said.

According to MES figures, Prince George's and Montgomery counties last year split more than $650,000 in profits from the sale of Leafgro.

Redmond remains skeptical.

The county spends more than $50 a ton to send 15,000 tons of yard waste a year to Dorsey Run Road, according to Land Use and Environment Office spokesman John Morris. That includes the cost of processing and transportacost of processing and transportation. The processing fee has risen about $4 a ton since the composting yard was shut down because of the added cost of sending the waste to Prince George's County, according to Peck.

By comparison, the county spends $20 a ton to send about 10,000 tons directly to the Prince George's County compost yard, Morris said. But that is only feasible for trucks with pickup routes closer to the Prince George's yard than to the Dorsey Run Road transfer station, he said.

Redmond has proposed a resolution that urges county officials to work with private companies to handle yard waste once the contract with MES expires.

"We don't have to be involved with it," he said. "It's way too expensive."

According to Redmond, even sending the yard waste to a trash transfer station, from where it would be sent to a landfill, would be cheaper than using the regional transfer station.

The county composts, mulches and otherwise reuses another 15,000 tons at the county's Millersville Landfill and at two collection centers. Residents are being urged to compost in their backyards, too.

Regardless of who does the composting, the important thing is to keep recycling yard waste into a usable product instead of filling valuable landfill space with it, Council Chairman Bert L. Rice maintained.

Rice said he would consider supporting the use of private composters if they could be relied on to run a large regional facility.

BFI, the private trash hauler initially hired to manage the Dorsey Run Road compost yard, was fired by MES in March 1996.

"I am not opposed to a regional composting facility at all," Rice said. "We need to take a closer look at what the private sector can do."

MES and the residents of Lennox Park who filed the lawsuit have been talking about a settlement, according to the residents' lawyer Thomas E. Dernoga.

Pub Date: 3/15/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.