Delegate calls for local power over trash plan

Glassman to submit bill after state rejects waste proposal

September 04, 2005|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Irked by state rejection of Harford County's solid waste management plan, a state delegate said he plans to introduce legislation that would give counties greater control over their landfills and trash collection.

Del. Barry Glassman said he plans to introduce a bill in the next General Assembly session that would give counties the authority to remove waste facilities from their long-term waste management plans.

The proposal comes in the wake of the Maryland Department of the Environment rejecting Harford's waste management plan after the county removed a provision for the proposed expansion of a landfill in the center of one of the county's fastest-growing residential areas.

In March, the County Council approved the administration's solid waste management plan after eliminating the Spencer rubble landfill. The council argued that Spencer's permit to operate the landfill, off Abingdon Road, expired in 1992. The landfill was at a former quarry that had been in operation since the 1930s.

The landfill occupied sites on both sides of the road. The 72 acres on the west side of Abingdon has been filled with debris and covered. The 65-acre pit on the east side of the road was about 20 percent filled when the site's operating permit expired and the landfill was closed.

The administration of former County Executive James M. Harkins proposed reopening the pit for use as a landfill in a 10-year solid waste management plan presented to the council in February.

Angry residents of the Abingdon area opposed the move. They packed the council chamber during two hearings, with the crowd spilling into the lobby and onto the sidewalk outside.

Residents complained that reopening the landfill would bring more noise, dust and truck traffic to their communities, which have been developed since the landfill closed.

They also expressed fears of an influx of rats and a decline in home values.

The council eventually approved the waste management plan, but only after eliminating the provision for the Spencer project.

In July, the Department of the Environment informed the county that it lacked the authority to eliminate Spencer. Once a project is put in a plan, it is in the plan forever, the state concluded. State officials have refused to approve the county's plan until Spencer is reinstated.

Glassman, a Republican who represents District 35-A, disagrees with the state's rationale.

"It does not make sense that counties can't remove a project from their solid waste management plans if they don't have a need for the landfills," he said.

Glassman, who is chairman of the county's legislative delegation, believes that the state code does not prohibit counties from adding or removing landfills from their plans.

"They can't say carte blanche that counties can't determine their own needs," he said. "They can't say that once a site is in the plan it's in the plan forever."

He said his bill would clear up language in the state code and give counties additional authority in controlling landfills.

Last month, County Executive David R. Craig and Council President Robert S. Wagner sent a letter to Kendl P. Philbrick, secretary of the environment department, asking him to reconsider the decision to reject the plan because Spencer and a second project - the Gravel Hill Road landfill near Havre de Grace - were deleted.

"It is not right for the state to hold up on the approval of the plan, because of its opposition to a part of it," Wagner said. "They have never done this before."

He added: "Let there be no mistake about it, the county executive and the County Council are on the same page in our united opposition to this. That neighborhood has changed completely since Spencer closed."

Aaron Tomarchio, Craig's chief of staff, said county officials met Monday with the deputy secretary of the environment department in hopes of reaching a resolution.

"MDE is not the bad guys," Tomarchio said. "They are upholding the law as they understand it. They are doing their jobs."

Tomarchio said the county expects a letter from the state within a couple of weeks on the county's appeal of the state's decision. "I think we can reach a workable solution," he said.

Richard McIntire, a spokesman for the Department of the Environment, called Monday's meeting "productive," but declined to make further comment.

Frank Henderson, deputy director of environmental affairs at the county Department of Public Works, said the state's action threatens to delay five waste management projects, including a plan to increase the amount of steam the county provides to Aberdeen Proving Ground.

He said the county wants to add a fifth burner, at a cost of $17 million, to its waste-to-energy plant on the military installation. The facility burns trash to produce the steam it provides to the base.

Henderson said the state's action also could delay a planned expansion of the Scarboro landfill and the opening of three new recycling centers to handle construction and demolition materials in the U.S. 40 corridor.

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