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Frederick County

Landfill Neighbors Outraged by Transfer Station Plans

By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 24, 2005; Page C05

Spring has blossomed along Reichs Ford Road in Frederick County, and so has the trash. The warm breeze carries its smell. Plastic bags bloom in the trees. Flying debris dots people's newly green lawns like dandelions.

The trucks even seem to come more often, perhaps, Karen Dow believes, because people are spring cleaning.

Karen Dow says Frederick County's planned transfer station would increase the size of trucks and the amount of traffic along Reichs Ford Road. The county says a transfer station would make more efficient use of its landfill area. (Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)

And now that the county plans to build a transfer station at the landfill that will receive local garbage and ship it out-of-state to huge landfills, Dow said she worries that more and bigger trucks soon will be zipping back and forth along Reichs Ford, the narrow country road in front of her house. The Maryland Department of the Environment this month gave permission to the county to begin operating a temporary transfer station until a permanent facility can be built.

"You can see where the trucks run off -- they've got ruts on the side of the road," said Dow, who organized 30 families near the landfill last year to fight any transfer station.

In January, the group filed a lawsuit in Baltimore City Circuit Court against Frederick County and the Maryland Department of the Environment to block a transfer station. If that fails, the group hopes to force the county to widen and upgrade Reichs Ford Road before any transfer station begins operating.

"We probably won't get the transfer station stopped. But we want people to take us seriously. How would they like their children in their yards with these trucks speeding up and down the highway?" said Joan Wade, a neighbor and member of the group, Citizens Association for Preserving/Restoring Our Community. The group also opposes the county's plan to pile garbage an additional 100 feet or so higher, to a pyramid that would stand about 675 feet above sea level.

"We're going to build an 11-story hill and carve the images of the county commissioners into it," Wade said. "Mount Trashmore."

Frederick County, which has transformed itself steadily from a dairy farming region into a Washington suburb in the past decade, has few options, officials have said. As the county's population has grown, so has the river of trash streaming into the landfill, they said. And the county's landfill is the most logical place to build a transfer station.

"This has been, since the 1960s, where waste has been disposed of in Frederick County," said Michael G. Marschner, director of the county's Division of Utilities and Solid Waste Management.

The county has used 130 acres of the 539-acre property for landfill, Marschner said. But to measure the ever-hastening speed with which the landfill has reached capacity, consider: The first section, known as Site A, opened in 1969 with a 4 million-ton capacity. It closed in 27 years.

The county then opened the first of several sections in Site B. The first, a 1.1 million-ton section, is full. A second, which opened in September 2001 with the same capacity, is 85 percent full. A third, which can take 760,000 tons, is 81 percent full after opening in 2003. Another section, with a planned 691,000 capacity, is under construction. It has not helped that the county some years back drew up long-term contracts that set some tipping fees so low that haulers accelerated the process of filling the site, a state official said.

A transfer station, estimated to cost $6.5 million, would allow the county to make more efficient use of its existing landfill area and extend its life, Marschner said.

Neighbors, however, said it would increase traffic, drawing not only the regular trash trucks to dump their loads, but also heavier trucks to haul the garbage out-of-state.

To allay neighbors' fears about the traffic, the county has begun improving Reichs Ford Road, Marschner said. And if anything, he said, the 45,000-square-foot building should ease neighbors' complaints about odors and blowing trash because it would allow county workers to sort the garbage indoors. He also defended the county's plan to raise the height of the landfill, saying that the pyramid would rise on such a gentle slope that it would be unobtrusive.

"This would not be unlike the contours of the land there today," he said. The environment department is expected to hold hearings this summer on the county's request, Marschner said.

Meanwhile, a review of the county's request to operate a permanent transfer station on the site is under way, department spokesman Richard McIntire said. By law, he also said, the state agency is not obligated to investigate or second-guess a county's determination that its land-use decisions fit its zoning laws.

"Counties are entrusted with the authority to set their own land use and zoning," he said. County officials predict that the permanent transfer station could open six to nine months after they receive the state permit. They said they hope it could open in early 2006.

People who live near the landfill said they recognize that those who live farther away often are inclined to dismiss their complaints as NIMBYism, Wade said. But perhaps, she added, it is because people prefer to believe that the consequences of living in a throw-away society always can be dumped off somewhere else.

"I think everybody kind of lives in a little dream world. They put their garbage out in plastic bags, and then it's magically taken away," Wade said. "Were it that easy."

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