Landfill fight gets panel's OK

Appeals board gives neighbors say about Cunningham project

Unanimous ruling

Builder seeks time to obtain Md. permits for rubble facility

March 09, 2000|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Residents opposing a proposed rubble landfill in Gambrills may continue their battle on the county level against James E. Cunningham's 7-year-old proposal, the county Board of Appeals ruled this week.

After a second night of arguments to determine if members of the Greater Gambrills Improvement Association deserve a say in whether Cunningham should have more time to obtain state permits, the board decided unanimously for the residents.

The decision enables neighbors to continue their fight against the proposal, which is in the last stages of approval at the state level. A thumbs-down from either level of government would halt the landfill plan.

"We're very pleased the board determined our clients have standing," attorney E. Benjamin Alliker said yesterday. Alliker was one of two lawyers representing the neighbors at the Tuesday night hearing on the time extension.

"We are going to continue our efforts, because [residents] do not believe this project should go forward," he said. "Until there is a resolution from [Maryland Department of the Environment] as to the permit, or the county as to the variance, we have to continue pursuing all fronts. All aspects of this are essential."

At the last hearing on the landfill in October, the county board heard arguments from Cunningham's lawyers. The saga continued Tuesday with testimony from residents of Evergreen Road, adjacent to Cunningham's property.

Residents told the five board members that the proposed landfill -- which would be used by about 200 trucks a day -- would negatively affect their properties and their lives.

Though Cunningham contended that residents would not be affected by the proposed landfill, they said that they can see trucks passing behind their property lines and hear tailgates banging late into the evening, and that their homes and cars are sometimes coated with dust from the sand-and-gravel operation currently at the property.

One neighbor recalled a time about 10 years ago when he smelled an odor from a previous landfill that Cunningham operated on the property.

"One summer, I smelled sulfur, rotten eggs," coming from the landfill pit, Norman K. Harvey testified.

He said he walked closer to the landfill and saw "thousands of sea gulls circling over the pit."

Residents also raised concerns about property values and possible water contamination.

The engineering plans for the new rubble landfill call for a liner and a leachate-collection system, but residents said they remain concerned because they use well water.

"Who's to say that's safe, that it couldn't fail?" James Armentrout asked. "I think there's a possibility something could go wrong. Nothing ever works perfect."

Cunningham first applied in 1993 for county and state permits to open a rubble landfill on his property bounded by Route 3, the Patuxent River, Evergreen Road and the Four Seasons communities. He had operated a landfill at the location since 1972. It reached capacity in 1992 and was supposed to close.

The county granted a special exception in 1993 to allow the new landfill, but it was to have a two-year limit. The Maryland Department of the Environment would not process the new rubble-landfill application, because Cunningham had not properly closed the first one, state records show.

Cunningham reached an agreement with MDE in 1997 when the old landfill was capped, and the county agreed then to start the two-year clock on the special exception for the new landfill.

But, said Cunningham lawyer Michael Roblyer, his client's plan for the facility hit another snag in 1998, when new state regulations required liners and a water-extraction system for new rubble fills. Engineers had to alter and re-submit their plans. The county's special exception ran out in January 1999, leading to Cunningham's request for a one-year extension -- and residents' opposition.

Even if the state approves Cunningham's plans and grants him a permit, the landfill cannot be opened without the county's special exception to zoning regulations.

If the extension is granted, it would be valid only through January 2000. Cunningham would have to seek another one-year extension before he can move forward with his plans to open the landfill. Should he be denied, Cunningham can appeal the decision or start the process again, applying to the county for a new special exception.

The hearing will continue June 21, when the board will begin hearing arguments on whether the extension should be granted.

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