Maybe things were destined to go foul here, in this grassy Marriottsville park adjacent to a former landfill.
"It seems this area is selected by each administration for dumping on," says Western Howard County resident Donald Gill, who almost two decades ago was forced to become next-door neighbor to a giant trash can.
The latest controversy surrounding the former Alpha Ridge landfill -- a proposed in-line skating pavilion up for a public hearing tonight -- is minor, at least compared with past allegations that the landfill contaminated ground water with carcinogens and destroyed the community's character.
Now, the county is proposing tearing down two basketball courts at Alpha Ridge Community Park nearthe former landfill site and build a full-size, in-line skating/hockey pavilion equipped with floodlights for nighttime use.
Residents in the Alpha Ridge neighborhood of about 500 homes are worried about increased traffic, the loss of basketball courts and the modern design of the covered pavilion. And the bright lights.
"Who wants floodlights in their back yard?" Recreation and Parks Director Gary Arthur asks sympathetically.
Not to mention the skaters who will be milling about the neighborhood after dark in the park situated on a small corner of the landfill's property.
"We can certainly appreciate the neighbors' concerns," says Arthur, adding that the county could install automatic timers on the lights so the park would effectively close later in the evening.
Marriottsville-area residents are concerned. Some have mailed angry letters to county officials and vow to turn out in force for the hearing, at 7: 30 p.m. in the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.
The proposed changes at the park are expected to add 9,000 visitors a year, including in-line skating enthusiasts who have few facilities in the area.
Gill sees the changes as a disruption. "It is totally out of keeping with the quiet, unlighted, rural character of the area," he says.
Some county officials apparently agree.
"If the community was told that any operation would last from dawn to dusk and this rink is going to have lights until 10 o'clock, I don't think it's consistent with what they were told," said County Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, a Republican whose district includes the landfill. "It's certainly an issue."
In 1980, despite an outcry from residents, the county opened the Alpha Ridge landfill 1,000 yards downwind from a small, mostly black community of about 70 along Old Frederick Road. Within a decade, the county had acknowledged the landfill was leaking carcinogens, but it has long disputed whether those cancer-causing materials were making their way into residents' wells.
But when 10 people in the small neighborhood became sick with cancer over eight years -- a per-household concentration higher than the overall Maryland rate -- the county denied the landfill was to blame.
In recent years, the county has been allocating funds to partially cap the landfill and to limit its use, but residents have demanded swifter action and have accused government officials of not spending enough on the cleanup.
The park, on a 40-acre section of the property, initially served as a buffer between the county and angry neighbors. Many residents saw the community park -- a place for kids to play and for families to have picnics -- as the first good use of the land.
But now the park has become the subject of controversy.
The county once proposed putting an equestrian facility there -- a move local horse enthusiasts embraced. But that never happened, in part, because of budget constraints.
An area for model airplane enthusiasts also was suggested, but that idea enraged neighbors who dreaded the noise and commotion. That proposal, too, never got off the ground.
County officials are prepared for a vocal debate over the in-line skating pavilion.
"This is just a hearing, but we're expecting people are going to be there voicing their opinions. Loudly," Arthur said.
Residents -- who couldn't stop the landfill and are convinced it has led to lower property values and health concerns -- see the park as something they can influence in their Alpha Ridge neighborhood.
Pub Date: 3/24/99