Then in 2002, Tolson & Associates LLC, applied to MDE for a permit to construct and operate a new rubble landfill on 72 acres within the site. According to online records, Tolson & Associates is owned by JKD Operations Inc., whose president is Kimberly Cunningham. She is the daughter of James Cunningham, who still owns the entire 184-acre site, including the mining operation and the rubble landfill, through Capital Associates LLC, essentially making him the landlord for the proposed facility.
Gorski, the Tolson attorney, confirmed those connections but said that Tolson and Cunningham Excavation Co. are separate entities and that James Cunningham will have no involvement in the rubble landfill. An MDE spokesman said a licensing agreement, lease, operating agreement and a signed affidavit claiming that James Cunningham has "no ownership or operational interest" in Tolson & Associates has satisfied any concerns they had.
Gorski said James Cunningham and other company principals were not available for comment and had designated him a spokesman for questions.
"MDE's objection wasn't to the family, it was to Mr. Cunningham being involved," said Gorski. "In 2004, if MDE wasn't satisfied he wasn't involved and it was a separate entity, we would never had gotten this far in this process. You cannot judge the daughter based on what MDE found about the father in the late 1990s. This is a whole different type of operation. The reality is he's 75 years old, he's not in the landfill business. He's retired and he races his cars."
Gorski said employees who previously worked for Cunningham would be responsible operators for the facility. "If anything, they certainly have gotten themselves up to speed on what the law requires. They know exactly what's required."
He said the company has already spent $250,000 on consultants and engineers, and estimated the construction process, which includes the installation of a liner, would cost millions.
Jeff Andrade, president of the Piney Orchard Community Association, said he's frustrated that MDE has accepted the company's explanations regarding ownership.
"Everybody focuses on James Cunningham," said Andrade. "Does that mean the company that he was running that had 96 violations is not responsible for what they did? It's not just James Cunningham, it's all these people. They're still running the company. And James Cunningham still owns the land….I don't understand MDE's position, that just because James Cunningham's gone, everything's OK."
In 2002, the county Department of Public Works said the proposed landfill conformed to zoning requirements and its Solid Waste Management Plan. But residents say the 9-year-old approval should be considered in light of the number of homes that have since been built in the area.
MDE officials say Tolson's plans for the site, including a storm water management plan, the required installation of a liner designed to prevent the release of polluted rainwater into groundwater, and other plans will negate any environmental impacts.
Though company officials say much of the waste will be recycled, residents say they worry about the rotten egg smell of hydrogen sulfide, which is created when dry wall gets wet, permeating their neighborhood.
Across Maryland, there are six rubble landfills, which are dumping sites for concrete, wood, drywall and other building materials. In 1997, a series of new regulations toughened state rules on the landfills, requiring liners to cover the dumping grounds to prevent groundwater contamination, much like trash landfills.
The proposed site is bounded to the northeast by Four Season's Community Estate, to the west by the Little Patuxent River, to the southeast by Capitol Raceway Park and Evergreen Road, and to the north by the closed Cunningham Rubble Landfill.
Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold recently wrote a letter to MDE saying it was "imperative" that the department "carefully consider" public comments before approving the permit. But residents say the county should go beyond that and rescind its approval of the site.
Sharon Mercer, a Piney Orchard resident, said she's hopeful MDE will reject the permit altogether.
"This is not a case of 'not in my backyard,'" she said. "But negligence about the impact of opening a landfill in the middle of an active, highly populated suburban area."