Plan for waste moves forward

County can act despite dispute with state over 2 dormant sites


Harford County is going ahead with its 10-year waste management plan, with the exception of two controversial sites that state environmental officials say must remain because of legal precedent.

The County Council and County Executive David Craig dropped their appeal last week of the state's decision to reject the entire plan because the county proposed to eliminate the two sites, a former landfill in Abingdon and a gravel pit in Havre de Grace.

After receiving permission from the Maryland Department of the Environment to move ahead with other aspects of the plan, county officials say they eagerly await legislation being drafted by Del. Barry Glassman to give counties more autonomy over their long-term waste management plans.

The former landfill and the gravel pit haven't been in operation for more than a decade, yet the county has not been able to wash its hands of the sites.

"Once a facility is put in a waste management plan, it is considered to be in the plan permanently," wrote MDE waste management administration director Horacio Tablada, pointing to legal precedents in Harford and Queen Anne's counties.

Harford County's plan does not put the sites any closer to receiving proper permits and zoning to resume operations, county and MDE officials have said. But the continued inclusion of those sites in the county's waste management plans has residents worried that they could be reopened, bringing air pollution, noise and a reduction in home values.

"They hold the hammer. They're in charge, and we are not," Harford County Council President Robert S. Wagner said of MDE. "That's why it's important to get the legislation in next session."

Hundreds of homes have sprung up around the Abingdon site, which has been dormant for 13 years and does not have a permit. The owner, Days Cove Reclamation Co., wants to sell the land to the county for use as ball fields, recreational facilities and hiking trails, said Craig.

"They're only there because they've been grandfathered in," Craig said. "The owners want to close the landfill and be done with it."

That wasn't enough for 200 skeptical residents who poured into council chambers in August and expressed concerns that the landfill would reopen.

Since 1989, Havre de Grace residents and members of the 150-year-old St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church on Gravel Hill Road have sparred with the gravel pit's owners, Maryland Reclamation Associates.

In 1990, Maryland Reclamation Associates filed a $2.9 million lawsuit against four residents who were opposing the gravel pit; the residents filed a countersuit. The church claims that Ku Klux Klan literature found strewn in front of the chapel in 1998 was related to the feud.

Several times, the County Council has voted to remove the site and killed the company's plans for a rubble and asbestos landfill. The two sides remain in court over the issue.

Despite initially rejecting the county's entire waste management plan because of the exclusion of the two sites, Tablada said MDE decided to approve the plan in part, so the county could push forward on its other components.

Those components include:

Expansion of the county's waste-to-energy plan that supplies steam to the Army at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Expansion of the county's only landfill where residents can take household waste, the Harford Waste Disposal Center in Scarboro.

Should a bill pass in the next General Assembly session, the county could reconsider the two sites in three years when it reviews the waste management plan.

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