A convenient excuse

Our view: Arundel deserves some relief in fly ash dispute

June 01, 2008

Let's get this straight: Anne Arundel County basically does the investigative legwork on contaminated wells that helps the state of Maryland collect a $1 million fine from the polluter, and when County Executive John R. Leopold tries to recoup the county's $104,000 expense, the state stiffs him? It may be legal, but it isn't right.

Gov. Martin O'Malley recently vetoed a bill in which Anne Arundel sought reimbursement for inspecting wells that were contaminated by ash waste dumped by Constellation Energy at a former gravel mine pit. The legislation was the wrong approach, he said. But Mr. O'Malley doesn't need a special law to repay Arundel taxpayers. He should just authorize a check for the county's costs. That would be the fair thing to do.

The dispute stems from the state Department of the Environment's actions in resolving a groundwater contamination complaint against Constellation and BBSS Inc., the waste site owner. The agency says it learned of the problem in 2006 from Constellation's routine tests of monitoring wells at the dump site. Anne Arundel's health department received a similar tip, tested 83 nearby residential wells and shared its results with the state. Once the state threatened to sue, Constellation agreed to a settlement last fall, accepted no liability, but paid a $1 million fine and offered other significant remedies for citizens.

The Department of the Environment says it couldn't reimburse Anne Arundel because the law doesn't allow the agency to reimburse local government costs in such enforcement actions, and paid fines go into a special fund that can't be used for that purpose. State environment officials now say the law should be changed, but they did nothing to revise it during the last legislative session. Instead they told Anne Arundel to sue Constellation for its costs.

That sure sounds like a convenient brush-off. The state is using a legal technicality to exploit Anne Arundel's good work on this public health concern when it should do right by county taxpayers.

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