Landfill bids spur protest, silence

Residents weigh pair of proposed facilities

March 05, 2000

While hundreds of neighbors who oppose the proposed Cunningham landfill in Gambrills have packed public meetings, circulated fliers, hired environmental consultants and called their elected officials, others in the nearby communities have remained distinctly silent.

Some say what's got the nonvocal neighbors gagged is the proposal for the Chesapeake Terrace landfill nearby, held up in legal battles for years, that might have a greater chance of succeeding if the Cunningham proposal were to fail.

Both proposals have been making their way through proceedings for several years. But while James E. Cunningham's proposal has at times had community backing and the necessary approvals, Warren E. "Cookie" Halle, who owns the Chesapeake Terrace site, has been fighting in court just to get his location incorporated into the county's solid waste management plan -- a necessary step before applying to the state for landfill permits.

In the continuing Cunningham saga, the County Board of Special Appeals will decide Tuesday whether the Greater Gambrills Community Association has the right to oppose the Cunningham plan. The meeting is at 6: 30 p.m. in the County Council chambers.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals will hear arguments in the Halle dispute April 11.

"I'd rather not have either of them, but [Cunningham's] is the lesser of two evils," said Ed Dosek, a Crofton resident who seven years ago was among those supporting Cunningham's efforts. "If we allow Cunningham to be denied, we're playing right into the hands of the Chesapeake Terrace folks."

Cunningham had been running a landfill on his property since 1972, and has had several violations at the facility, Maryland Department of the Environment records show. He applied in 1993 -- one year after his old landfill closed -- to open another landfill on his property, bounded by Route 3, the Little Patuxent River and the Four Seasons and Courts of Four Seasons neighborhoods, both along Waugh Chapel Road.

The Chesapeake Terrace property, along Conway Road south of Cunningham's site, has never been a landfill, but the idea of one opening there frightens neighbors because it would send hundreds of trailers and dump trucks daily through an already overloaded intersection at Routes 3 and 424. Trucks going to Cunningham's landfill would have access from Route 3.

Two weeks ago, nearly 500 residents, led by the Greater Gambrills Improvement Association and residents of the Courts of Four Seasons community, where many of the homes abut the Cunningham property, packed into an elementary school multipurpose room to oppose the landfill at a state hearing.

But the Four Seasons Community Association, which represents a slightly older neighborhood mostly across Waugh Chapel Road from the Courts, did not send a representative to enter comments into the public record.

Neither did homeowners in the Forks of the Patuxent, a neighborhood south of Cunningham's site but closer to the Chesapeake Terrace site along Conway Road.

"We're not taking a position on the landfill," said Cathy Fleshman, president of the Forks of the Patuxent Community Association. "Cunningham, he's been trying for 10 years to get his permits. I don't think there's any way to stop it at this point."

Joan Berry, vice president of the Four Seasons Community Association, said her group would remain neutral in this round of debates. In 1993, before much of the Courts had been built, the association signed an agreement with Cunningham, according to which he installed a berm and fences and planted trees around the perimeter of the landfill in exchange for the community group's support.

At the time, Berry said, the county had never denied a landfill application, and most residents thought the agreement was the most they could get to address their concerns about noise and dust.

Seven years later, the dust is still flying and the agreement stands, she said.

"The status of Four Seasons [Community Association] is that we have the agreement," Berry said. "We have not talked about it in a public meeting. The only thing we said is the fact that we have this agreement."

Bert Rice, president of the Greater Odenton Improvement Association, also had been hesitant to take a stand before the executive board voted to oppose Cunningham last week.

"I want the communities that are closest to be supportive or opposed," he said, noting that in 1993 when the association opposed the landfill, the Four Seasons' agreement divided the greater community's sentiment and left the Odenton group virtually alone.

He said he will draft a letter to MDE this week noting his group's opposition.

Crofton is another group that at one time lent its support to Cunningham for fear of the looming Chesapeake Terrace proposal. The civic association now opposes Cunningham and would likely oppose any other proposal, said Gayle Sears, board president.

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