Trashed recycling plan leaves Duncan furious

Montgomery executive assails council, advisers, who say he is to blame

May 19, 1999|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

ROCKVILLE -- His highly publicized recycling program in ruins, an angry Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan yesterday demanded an apology from those he holds responsible: the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, the County Council and his own advisers.

"They're crazy," Duncan raged at a news conference staged before a mound of old newspapers and cardboard at the county recycling center. "They question whether people will recycle. What an insult to the people of this county."

But those criticized by Duncan say the executive is blaming them to shift the focus away from his flawed and costly recycling program.

"If Rachel Carson were alive, he'd probably be blaming her," said County Council spokesman Patrick Lacefield, referring to the environmental writer and author of "Silent Spring."

Council member Nancy Dacek, a self-taught garbage expert, said Duncan is just not used to being told no.

"I'm not mad at Doug. He's just acting out," said the woman whose e-mail address is

Montgomery hopes to reach 50 percent recycling by the end of next year and has been negotiating with Office Paper Systems of Gaithersburg since 1996 to handle all residential paper and cardboard. Residents recycle newspapers, and several communities are part of a mixed-paper pilot program.

Three weeks ago, Duncan kicked off a $2 million public relations campaign to reach the goal, timed to coincide with the completion of the contract with OPS.

But the County Council this week refused to pay for the first year of the 10-year deal he negotiated, saying it was too expensive.

The contract would have required the county to guarantee 115,000 tons of mixed paper each year, regardless of how much was collected. Estimates by county analysts put the annual tonnage at closer to 70,000, meaning taxpayers could be stuck with a bill of $400,000 a year for paper not collected.

Duncan said the recycling contract would cost each household $9 a year under a "worst-case scenario," but the bill would most likely be closer to $6 annually. "That's $6 to help save the environment," he noted.

The executive then warned that OPS might sue the county for breach of contract. Such a lawsuit could also put in jeopardy the county's newspaper recycling program, which the firm was scheduled to take over as part of the deal.

Chaz Miller, an official with the National Solid Waste Management Association and chairman of a solid waste advisory committee who was appointed by Duncan, said he tried to raise concerns with the executive during a meeting about six months ago.

"We made it clear that we had serious misgivings. We warned him that there were serious flaws in their program, that it was irresponsible economics" said Miller.

Duncan said the group never told him to kill the deal.

At yesterday's event, Duncan predicted public backlash against the council.

"I want the public to start calling them. They're already getting calls. I think the pressure is going to build," he said.

Lacefield, the council spokesman, said the phones have been quiet. "We're handling the calls. Both of them."

Pub Date: 5/19/99

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