Residents whose homes surround Harford County's only government-operated landfill, will press their case against an expansion of the facility at the Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings on Thursday.
The court, in Hunt Valley, provides residents an opportunity to resolve their issues with decisions made by a state agency. In this case, residents are asking the Maryland Department of the Environment to withhold a permit for the landfill expansion.
The landfill opponents contend that any addition to the Harford Waste Disposal Center in Street will degrade their residential wells, as well as Deer Creek, a drinking water source for thousands of county residents. Additional refuse at the facility that accepts 50,500 tons of trash annually will lower air quality and adversely affect their health, quality of life and property values, the opponents say.
"We all understand that a solution to the refuse problem needs to be found, especially with Harford County's current and expected growth," Diane Burrier, whose home overlooks the landfill, said at a recent meeting of the County Council. "But we feel the citizens living nearest this facility have repeatedly been asked to carry the largest part of the burden, and the weight of this has resulted in increased health risk for our families, as well as damage to our environment."
Rather than expand the landfill, Burrier and other Street residents are urging the county to increase operations at its incinerator in Joppa. The county is evaluating contractor bids for upgrades to the Energy Recovery Operations plant, but does not expect to name a contractor until next year, officials said. The County Council this year deferred indefinitely a proposed $60 million addition to the incinerator.
At the first of what could be several hearings on the landfill, the attorney representing six homeowners will present expert witnesses and detail the reasons for their opposition to the $3 million expansion. Because a state agency, MDE, issues permits for such expansions, the state is offering residents an impartial administrative hearing to resolve their differences. The attorney general's office will represent MDE at the hearing.
"OAH confirms that we have followed the right process in issuing a permit," said Robert Ballenger, MDE spokesman. "This will be a pre-conference hearing that puts the subsequent hearings in motion."
In the meantime, the county cannot move forward with the long-planned project until resolution of the appeal, a process that could take a year.
After several public hearings and nearly a decade of review, MDE had tentatively planned to issue a permit for the expansion last spring, but instead, must again argue the merits of the project.
Residents contend that the agency provided information and answered questions on the project and did not give their concerns consideration.
Timing is critical because the 66-acre facility will reach its 2.3 million-ton capacity by the end of next year. Nearly 2 million tons are buried in collector cells. Without more space, Harford will have to ship its trash out of the county, adding significantly to the cost of waste disposal.
"We are rapidly running out of space and won't have the new collector cells built in time," said Frank Henderson, Harford's deputy director of environmental affairs.
County officials will attend the hearing, but defense of the permit falls to MDE.
"We will be available to answer questions, but this is between citizens and MDE," Henderson said.
Richard Klein, attorney for the residents, said OAH could schedule at least two more hearings on the landfill. "Nothing will be resolved Thursday," Klein said. "That is months away."
The hearing is at 10 a.m. Thursday at the Maryland Office of Administrative Hearings, 11101 Gilroy Road, Hunt Valley.