BEULAH - Dorchester County officials are considering a plan that could make this tiny crossroads the dump site for as much as 600 tons of outside trash every day - a move that critics say would clog rural Eastern Shore roads with convoys of garbage trucks and leave an uncertain environmental legacy.
The five-member County Council is reviewing bids from four unnamed companies interested in running the county's 300-acre landfill in exchange for fees paid by haulers bringing refuse from communities where landfill space is scarce.
Council President Glenn L. Bramble says privatizing the landfill would bring in more than $1 million a year from the contractor to Dorchester, one of Maryland's poorest counties.
The change would also clear the way for free curbside trash pickup for the first time in sparsely populated Dorchester - a service Bramble says would help end a "fairly massive littering problem" that leaves everything from fast-food wrappers to refrigerators along roadsides.
"I believe it's going to save us money in the operation of the landfill and generate more revenue for the county," Bramble said. "I've got faith it'll come together in a way that's the best thing for our taxpayers."
The council has been negotiating with the four contractors since last summer and has scheduled its first public forum for Wednesday night.
Opponents in northern Dorchester and in neighboring Caroline County say the layout of major roads leading to the landfill means they will bear the brunt of increased traffic at the facility, which sits about a mile from the county line.
Leaders in nearby small towns such as Preston, population 566, and Federalsburg, a town of 2,600, already are expressing their opposition.
Residents say they remember all too well the traffic generated by a privately owned rubble dump that was located adjacent to the Dorchester landfill.
After years of complaints about bumper-to-bumper garbage trucks, the facility was closed and capped two years ago. In low-lying Dorchester, known for its marshes and flat fields of soybeans and corn, the 75-foot "Mount Trashmore," as it was dubbed, is the highest point in the county.
"Without exception, we had trucks coming through 24/7," said Ann "Mimi" Willis, town manager of Preston, where an average of 10,000 vehicles already travel daily on its two-lane Main Street. "It was supposed to be a rubble fill, but we had smelly trucks all the time. We had no say then and none now."
Effie M. Elzey, who represents the northern district on the Dorchester County Council, says she is skeptical about estimates that the landfill could last up to 75 years before being filled.
She also wonders about possible savings in operational expenses at the landfill, which is staffed by four county employees.
"This amounts to an invasion of a rural farming community," said Elzey. "We'd have 600 tons a day from outside and another 200 a day from Dorchester. I don't believe it would last 75 years, and I'm worried about the long-term environmental effects for our groundwater," Elzey said.
Last week, Caroline County's three commissioners sent a letter of protest to their Dorchester counterparts, going "on record in vehement opposition to your proposal."
Caroline officials said they have tried unsuccessfully to persuade Dorchester to join them and neighboring Talbot and Queen Anne's counties in a regional trash-disposal operation.
With capacity running out at the Mid-Shore Landfill near Easton - which serves the three counties - the Dorchester facility could offer a long-term disposal site, says Roger L. Layton, vice president of the Caroline commission.
"It's a major environmental and permit process you have to go through to create a new landfill" Layton said. "I hope the good people of Dorchester take a close look at this."
To longtime residents such as Gloria Dolan, who lives about two miles outside Federalsburg, the latest controversy seems all too familiar.
Fifteen years ago, she and other community activists were successful in getting a wood-treatment business shut down.
"Somebody just always seems to be targeting this area," Dolan said. "The only thing you can do is to try and fight it one step at a time."