Harford waste center receives 56 violations

County develops response plan to state assessment

July 17, 2008|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

An assessment of the Harford Waste Disposal Center has uncovered 56 violations, including unsafe areas and equipment, escaping litter, inadequate trash cover and erosion of surrounding ground at the county landfill in Street.

The county received the results nearly two months ago and has since developed a response plan with some improvements in place, officials said yesterday.

"Some violations are minor, and several have gone on for more than 10 years, back two previous administrations," said county spokesman Robert B. Thomas Jr. "A variety of factors led to long-and short-term issues. We are now implementing an action plan to ensure that we are in compliance with our permit and our solid waste management plan."

The first comprehensive examination of the 20-year-old landfill included on-site inspections of the daily operations as well as comprehensive reviews of permits, daily reports, annual tonnage and expansion plans.

The county paid $40,000 to the Maryland Environmental Service, an independent state agency charged with protecting air, land and water resources and headed by former Harford County Executive James M. Harkins, for nearly three months of research.

Officials said they have reviewed the 70-page MES report, which includes numerous photographs of violations, and are addressing each recommendation in an effort to improve safety and operations at the 60-acre facility along Scarboro Road. The landfill is scheduled to undergo a $3 million expansion.

MES officials have deemed the problems fixable, said Chris Garrigan, director of communications.

"The report, prepared at the request of Harford County, identified problems," Garrigan said. "MES is happy to assist the county in mitigating those problems."

Thomas released a draft of proposed actions yesterday, with the county's responses to each complaint. The plan calls for operational improvements, safety upgrades, particularly to areas used by the public, and regularly scheduled monitoring and testing at the landfill. The proposal includes regrading, additional fencing, more staff training and consistent inspection of equipment.

"We intend to meet with all personnel to review training records and to determine if employees are working according to the parameters of their positions," Thomas said. "We will determine if we have the right equipment for an efficient, effective operation. We want a safe operation for our employees and for the citizens who bring materials to the landfill on a daily basis."

The Maryland Department of the Environment, which has inspected the county landfill 60 times in the past five years and issued three site complaints, also is reviewing the MES report and has recently met with Harford's public works department to discuss the general compliance issues.

"In general, it appears that the report does not conflict with past observations made by MDE inspectors," said Kim Lamphier, MDE spokeswoman.

She added, "The county has expressed its willingness to bring the site into full compliance, and we see the MES study, which was initiated by the county, as a step in the right direction of their intent to manage to site in a ... safe manner."

Although officials insist the landfill is engineered to established standards with safeguards in place to protect ground water and air quality, nearby residents have complained for years about trash, odors, possible contamination of their wells, health hazards, noise and traffic. The impending expansion onto an adjoining 77-acre parcel exacerbated the complaints. Residents appealed to the courts to curtail the project but dropped the suit for lack of funds.

The expansion is critical since the landfill, which handles about 50 tons of waste daily, is filling up and might run out of space by the end of the year. Design work is nearly complete and the project will proceed, officials said yesterday.

"Design is 90 percent complete," Thomas said. "We are working on final costs and construction could begin early next year."

Diane Burrier, whose home overlooks the landfill, has created a Web site aimed at stopping the expansion and has posted numerous photos of violations, some as recent as last month. "The county is playing down the expansiveness of the violations," she said. "We have photos of trash that is uncovered, and there are giant hills covered with a white silica powder, a known skin and mucus irritant."

Officials have promised Burrier a copy of the MES report, for which she must pay $60. She has not received the document but already mistrusts the contents.

"I don't trust MES," she said yesterday. "The agency is headed by former County Executive Jim Harkins, whose administration is responsible for many of these violations. How could this report be unbiased? The county should have used an out-of-state agency."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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