A protracted fight over a proposed landfill in western Anne Arundel County remains hotly contested, despite efforts by the Silver Spring-based Halle Cos. to push the deal through.
Representatives for the Greater Crofton Council and the Greater Odenton Improvement Association have opposed the landfill for about 15 years, but they told those who packed the Crofton group's monthly meeting Tuesday night that they see it as inevitable - and hope to get something from Halle in exchange.
"There's no way to stop the landfill," said Greater Crofton Council President Torrey Jacobsen before more than 120 people. "It can come under our terms or ... Halle's terms."
Yet some in Crofton and Odenton voiced their displeasure about what they say is an apparent about-face by the two community associations, which in September entered into a nonbinding agreement of support for a landfill on 481 acres near Odenton that the company owns.
In exchange, Halle has offered to donate as much as $750,000 a year to local community associations. It also offered to help build a public high school in Gambrills, and a community center and a 500-acre park near the site.
"Halle is still not in," said John Rice, a member of the Forks of the Patuxent Improvement Association. "We have fought them for 15 years, and we will fight them for another 15 years."
Leaders of the two groups that are seeking to compromise with Halle say they're trying to make the best of a bad situation.
Community groups have no power to enforce agreements such as Halle's memo of understanding that promises the park, the high school and the community center. That authority primarily rests with the county, and County Executive Janet S. Owens has long opposed a landfill.
The Maryland Department of the Environment is considering the second part of a five-phase application from Halle, which involves geological and hydrological reports. Stephen N. Fleischman, a vice president for the Halle Cos., said Halle plans to discuss the next phase - an engineering report - with MDE early next month.
Fleischman said the landfill would be open for 15 years.
The county has lost repeated attempts to block the project, but Jacobsen said its cooperation would expedite the approval process. "All we need is our county executive and our County Council to talk and try to come to terms," he said.
Halle also has considered paying the Delaware Nation of Anadarko, an Oklahoma-based Indian tribe, $1.4 million a year to take control of the land. Such a move could allow the company to run the landfill without adherence to county and state laws.
The federal Bureau of Indian Affairs could rule on the proposal in the next two weeks. In a May letter, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. asked the agency to reject it.
"We are going down both routes," Fleischman said Tuesday night. "The first one to come to the finish line gets the prize."
Fleischman said yesterday that he hopes the landfill will open "by the end of next year. But that's purely a guess."
But the fact that Halle has yet to open for business on the site near the Little Patuxent River gives opponents motivation to remain steadfast.
Some argue that the Greater Crofton Council sold out the interests of the surrounding communities. The right move is to continue to oppose Halle, they said.
"Stabbing our neighbors to the north in the back is not the best way to do this," said Steve Conyer, president of the Crofton Athletic Council, a voting member of the Greater Crofton Council. He said that issues surrounding Halle had been discussed for months at Greater Crofton Council meetings but that he didn't know a proposal supporting the landfill would be brought to a vote in September.
Scott Conwell, a lawyer who lives in Crofton, said Halle "had been consistently slammed" at several meetings he attended leading up to September. He said he didn't know such a proposal would be discussed.
The Crofton Civic Association reaffirmed its opposition to the agreement in a statement yesterday. The group's president, Steve Grimaud, acknowledged the community's need for a high school. But because of environmental, health and safety concerns, he said, he is unwilling to compromise on the landfill to build a school.