The subject was sludge. Or rather the odor of it wafting over the Montgomery County line and into the homes of Prince George's County citizens.
And Deputy County Attorney John Barr wanted to make one thing perfectly clear about it to the Prince George's County Council members at this week's meeting. A resident of Calverton, he said, "I resent the fact that Montgomery County comes up with seven sites to dump their sludge and they are all within smoking distance of Prince George's County and my neighborhood."
On a day when the council considered a report from the Task Force on Tourism recommending the county seek to increase tourism, it also had to come to grips with the possibility that Montgomery County could build a sludge composting facility on its borders.
Montgomery County has been looking for a place to haul its portion of sludge from the Blue Plains Sewage Treatment Plant since July when funds for design and land acquisition were allocated for the project through the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission budget.
Prince George's got into the act because the county must approve any new additional funds to build the facility, if it is built before July 1, 1978.
"Because the county can approve the funding, it also has a right to comment on where the facility is put," said Dennis Bigley, council staffer.
And comment they did. All seven of the proposed sites lie in a strip between Rtes, 29 and 95, just north of the Beltway and next to a heavily residential area in Prince George's.
"We believe that there are areas of western Montgomery County which are no further from Blue Plains that the proposed site," Bigley added in a proposed letter to the Montgomery County Council President John L. Menke.
"Summertime winds from the southwest" and "prevailing winds in the vicinity of all the proposed sites" as well as increased truck traffic through the area and "the potential for noxious odors" caused by sludge compost is a major concern according to several council members.
Council member David G. Hartlove cautioned the council against any outright condemnation of the plan, adding, "We have three counties we border ourselves. We have to watch it or if you want to talk about odor problems, the odor might come back at you."
Currently the county has a sludge facility in Beltsville and "occasionally odors (from it) are noticed on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway," said Bigley.
The council voted to reject all the sites "in the interests of the citizens in that end of the county" according to one council member.
"Let's put the ball in their court," said Parris N. Glendening," and give them a chance to volley it back by moving the sites to the west of their county."
The sludge facility was definitely not on the "most recommended list" of tourist spots offered to the county by the 11-member tourism task force.
Instead, it suggested tourist centers at the major transit arteries bordering the county, the creation of a pre-20th century Maryland community, development of recreational vehicle campgrounds and the construction of a theme park along the lines of Mariott's "Great America" parks.
"Escapism is America's number one occupation," said H. Joseph Edwards, chairman of the task force and president of the Greater Laurel Chamber of Commerce. "Apparently the more affluent we are, the more likely we are to spend on leisure time activities."
Those "leisure time activities" mean big dollars to the task force and to the county. In 1975, travel-related expenditures generated more than $122 million in sales, and netted $115 million in local taxes in Prince George's, according to the task force report.
But the task force stressed that "aggressive legislative and administrative actions" will be needed to entice tourists to visit such attractions as the College Park Airport (the oldest airport in continuous operation in the world), the Agricultural Research Center (hub of a nationwide research effort by the U.S. Department of Agriculture) and Upper Marlboro (birthplace of John Carroll, first elected Catholic bishop in the U.S.)