Permit to expand landfill delayed

Residents given extended period to comment on expansion plan

November 19, 2006|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

The state's decision on whether to approve a permit allowing Harford County to expand its only municipal landfill will be pushed into next year after officials extended the public comment period in the wake of a contentious hearing that attracted more than 100 angry residents.

Maryland Department of the Environment officials added time for comment after a meeting Thursday at Dublin Elementary School in Street at which nearby residents opposed a plan for expansion of the Harford Waste Disposal Center.

Officials say the $3 million upgrade is necessary because the 60-acre center is approaching capacity.

The state, which typically keeps the record open for about two weeks after a hearing, is allowing a six-week period for residents to comment on the Harford proposal.

"The most valuable thing they will look for from residents is technical information as opposed to emotion," said Frank Henderson, Harford's deputy director of environmental affairs.

State and county officials received plenty of emotional comment from residents after making a presentation on the history of the landfill and the need for expansion. They also outlined the measures needed to safeguard residents and the environment before construction begins.

When residents got their chance to speak, they were intensely critical of the proposal and the process.

"You forgot the number one thing: us," said David Dowell of Darlington. "You didn't go to the people who live around this landfill. You talk like doctors, but you can't guarantee anything, not that accidents won't happen, or the liner won't break or trash won't leak. I don't care about any of this. I care about my property value."

George Mullin said landfills are archaic and urged the county to pursue incineration as an alternative.

"We are demanding a safer environment for trash disposal," the Street resident said. "If we do that, we will make Harford better and increase our property values."

The county also is considering expanding 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. But that project is in the preliminary planning stages.

"We are interested in increasing waste-to-energy capacity, but we can't bring that project on line in less than five years," Henderson said. "We only have two years of life left at the landfill."

The landfill 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 the area in the next several years. The county must address its trash-disposal needs immediately, Henderson said.

A storm that flooded roads and felled trees did not keep residents from Thursday's hearing. Many complained that they had not been adequately notified of the project. In addition to submitting letters, they are circulating a petition that has several hundred signatures. Officials denied their request for another hearing.

"They didn't answer our questions, and they looked smug," said Diane Burrier of Street. "I came away from the hearing feeling even worse about the project."

Chad Shrodes, who was recently elected the area's representative to the County Council, said he might recommend tax credits for property owners living near the landfill and larger landscaped buffers between the homes and the landfill.

State Sen. J. Robert Hooper urged residents to recycle trash.

"We are the culprits who haul material to the landfill," Hooper said. "This trash is coming from our houses. Only about 50 percent of us recycle."

Burrier and Mullin toured the landfill last week, and Henderson offered others the same firsthand look. He invited residents to review all plans related to the project at the Whiteford branch of the county library, 2407 Whiteford Road.

He explained how soil tests and monitor wells help ensure that no leakage contaminates ground water but said he doubts whether he eased the concerns of residents opposed to the proposal.

"This is basically a not-in-my-backyard thing," Henderson said. "We are all looking for clean air and clean water and a way to dispose of trash. We have to build what we need and look long-term."

Nearly 2 million tons of residential and business trash are buried at the landfill, which opened in the 1980s in a rural area near the now-closed Scarboro Landfill. The county buries about 50,500 tons of municipal and commercial trash annually in collector cells at the site. It is proposing to build seven additional cells on 77 acres near the current landfill's receiving area.

It will take about two years to design and build new cells to handle the additional trash. Completion of the expansion is tentatively scheduled to coincide with the closing of the current landfill, county officials said. If the expansion were not ready by then, the county would have to haul trash to out-of-state landfills, which would be costly and time-consuming.

Comments on the proposal to expand the landfill should be addressed to Horacio Tablada, director of waste management administration, MDE, 1800 Washington Blvd., #605, Baltimore 21230-1719.

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