Public protests landfill project

Residents say state should deny owner permit for facility

February 25, 2000|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Maryland Department of the Environment officials were poring over reams of documents, maps and testimony yesterday that came out of a three-hour meeting during which Gambrills and Odenton residents demanded that they deny a local landfill owner permission to open a new facility on his property.

At a public hearing that drew nearly 500 residents into a crowded elementary school cafeteria, neighbors noted a history of environmental citations, zoning problems and allegations of recently discovered illegal dumping to support their case.

Elected officials, lawyers, environmental consultants, community activists and homeowners took turns Wednesday night telling state officials that the landfill near Capital Raceway proposed by James E. Cunningham was too close to homes, too close to GORC Park and too much of a health risk for local communities.

Residents were strongly opposed to the possibility that the landfill would accept powder-form asbestos, a cancer-causing substance.

"How far can airborne asbestos travel on a windy day?" asked resident Elise Rand. "If it's a couple hundred feet, it's in GORC Park. If it's a mile, it's in the schoolyards. I don't know how far it can travel, but should we allow our children to be guinea pigs?"

MDE has granted tentative approval to the landfill, saying the basic information about the facility design that Cunningham submitted meets requirements. But the public hearing -- a required part of the application process -- allowed the community to voice its opposition to the proposed project and submit information for MDE to consider.

County Councilmen John J. Klocko III and Bill D. Burlison and state Sen. Robert R. Neall weighed in with strong opposition to the proposal, which, according to Klocko, is not needed, though county general development plans call for it.

E. Benjamin Alliker, a lawyer representing the Greater Gambrills Improvement Association, pointed out inconsistencies between the proposal Cunningham submitted to the state and plans approved by county zoning officials.

According to Alliker, the proposal to the state shows part of the landfill and some monitoring wells placed outside of the area zoned for the landfill. The proposal also shows smaller buffer zones than the county has required, and a higher elevation than was allowed in a 1993 agreement with the county.

The information submitted to the state also appeared to show that the original landfill had encroached on neighboring properties, Alliker said.

Key among residents' concerns was Cunningham's history of violations with the MDE dating from 1977 as owner of Cunningham Excavating and Cunningham Asphalt, located at the same site, when the state accused him of operating a landfill without a permit. He has been cited several times since for accepting hazardous waste in the form of sandblasting grit contaminated by lead paint, filling his pits with more rubble than permitted by the state, dumping outside the approved area, and allowing his county zoning permits and bonds to expire, according to state records.

Efforts to close Cunningham's landfill in 1992 were not successful until 1997, when he was charged a total of $15,000 in fines. An agreement between Cunningham and MDE also required Cunningham to pay $50,000 annually to the county and $15,000 annually for four years to the state for inspection costs if the new facility is built.

Cunningham said Wednesday that he has done everything asked of him and that the infractions over the years were "just minor stuff" that happens in every landfill.

Community members point to a more recent discovery of three unlicensed dumps along the Little Patuxent River on property adjacent to the closed landfill.

Cunningham has leased the property where the dumps were found for several years, and the dumps have been there long before then, his lawyer said.

Last month, MDE ordered Cunningham to clean the sites where demolition debris, tires and metal drums were discovered in late December. County approval is sought for an erosion and sediment control plan, needed so workers can dig into the soil and remove buried debris, an MDE spokeswoman said.

The cleanup should be completed by late April.

Edward Dexter, a chief in MDE's Solid Waste Division, submitted reports on the unlicensed dumps for the record during Wednesday's meeting, telling the hearing officer that the discovery of the illegal dumps was "a significant event" and that the Solid Waste Division would be "watching to make sure this is cleaned up."

Neighbors who also saw the unlicensed dumps and took soil and water samples submitted test results that showed contamination from total petroleum hydrocarbons.

MDE will accept public comment through March 3, then decide whether to issue or deny the application.

An appeal on an extension by the county to Cunningham's zoning permit for the new facility will continue at 6: 30 p.m. March 7 in the county council chambers.

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