Landfill expansion near final approval

State agency plans hearing this week

November 12, 2006|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,sun reporter

After eight years of research, state and federal reviews, monitoring and testing and several public hearings, Maryland environmental officials are on the brink of allowing Harford County to move ahead with a $3 million expansion at its only municipal landfill.

The Harford Waste Disposal Center, a 60-acre facility in Whiteford, is expected to run out of space by the end of 2008, officials said.

Before making its final decision, the Maryland Department of the Environment has scheduled another public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Dublin Elementary School in Street, near the landfill site.

"We are going to the hearing with a tentative determination to issue a permit," said Martha Hynson, chief of the Field Operations and Projects Division of the Department of the Environment. "Depending on the testimony, we might modify the permit or ask for additional work."

Some residents who live near the facility are opposed to the expansion and say they plan to testify at the hearing. Eighty-five residents were notified of the proposal in a certified letter last month, and documents related to the expansion have been made available at the Whiteford branch of the county library.

"Those documents are not understandable to the lay person," said Diane Burrier, a resident who opposes the project. "People don't understand what this expansion could do to the environment. It seems like the state and county are sliding things through. We don't want this in a watershed area."

Burrier and other residents who oppose the expansion said they will seek assurances that the project will not pollute the air, residential wells or Deer Creek, a source of drinking water for the county.

At the hearing, county officials will present aerial photos showing homes, the landfill and the proposed area of expansion. The county's engineering consultants will answer questions and state officials will hear residents' comments.

With nearly 2 million tons of residential and business trash already buried at the site, the disposal center, which opened in the 1980s in a rural area near the site of Scarboro Landfill, is approaching its capacity of 2.3 million tons. The county buries about 50,500 tons of municipal and commercial trash annually in collector cells at the site. Each ton of trash occupies about 2 cubic yards.

"We are concerned because we are running up against the end of capacity," said Frank Henderson, Harford's deputy director of environmental affairs. "We started this process eight years ago and this hearing is the final step before we proceed to permit."

The county landfill has room to expand, but time is essential, officials said. It will take about two years to design and build new cells to handle the additional trash, with completion tentatively scheduled to coincide with closing of the existing landfill. If the expansion is not ready, the county will have to haul trash to out-of-state landfills, a costly and time-consuming process.

Plans call for an expansion that could provide about 3.5 million cubic yards of landfill space in four cells, depending on the final engineering design, on 77 acres northeast of the present landfill's receiving area.

Commercial construction debris, which would take up too much space, is not accepted at the county landfill, a policy that will stand even after a privately owned rubble landfill in Joppa closes when it reaches capacity next year.

The state permit would allow the county to proceed with excavating the new cells, which would be lined in layers of clay, plastic and a drainage material to protect groundwater from contamination.

"These landfills are not dumps," Henderson said. "They are engineered and lined to protect groundwater."

When the existing landfill reaches capacity, it will be closed, covered and monitored.

"We will have to sample and monitor for 30 years after the landfill's closure," Henderson said.

The expansion is part of the county's 10-year waste-management plan, a document that takes into consideration the impact of a nationwide military base realignment, known as BRAC, that is expected to bring several thousand families to Harford in the next four years.

"We know down the road we will have a lot more people and a lot more waste, and we are planning for the future," Henderson said.

Among those plans is an expansion of the Harford County Resource Recovery Facility, a waste-to-energy plant in Edgewood that burns about 120,000 tons of trash annually, more than twice the amount that goes to the landfill. Burning trash offers other advantages, such as steam heat.

"Steam from the process can be used as an energy source," Henderson said. "It can be used to heat buildings and operate chillers that provide air conditioning."

As part of its permit application requirement, the county has conducted soil tests and analysis and drilled monitor wells to make sure no leakage contaminates groundwater. The MDE requires the county to take well and soil readings throughout the year and constantly reviews the data from those reports. Technicians also must test quarterly for the presence of landfill gases.

The landscaped buffers that screen the landfill from neighboring homes also will be extended. Those forested and grassy areas already provide residents with recreational outlets, including equestrian trails and a disc golf course.

A draft copy of the permit is available at the Whiteford library, 2407 Whiteford Road. Dublin Elementary School is at 1527 Whiteford Road, Street. Information: 410-547-3310.

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