It was the day of her eighth wedding anniversary last Sept. 13, and Sharon Lauer remembers it well. She and her husband, Dean, had returned about 9 p.m. to their Brooke Knolls road home outside of Laytonsville after a celebration dinner at Victoria station in Gaithersburg. There was a telephone message from their neighbors, Don and Marcia McComb.
"The message sounded urgent, and I was nosy," Sharon Lauer recalled. "I couldn't wait until the next morning to call." So that night Dean lauer, an Air force doctor, called Don McComb, who works for the National education Association, and discovered what McComb had learned only a few hours before - Montgomery County environmental planners ahd proposed five sites in the Laytonsville area for consideration as garbage landfills.
"Oh, gosh, how do you describe the sinking feeling in your stomach?" asked Sharon Lauer, remembering her initial reaction to the idea of a landfill less than a mile from her house. "It was sickening."
In the following months, the issue fo where the landfill sites should be would bring the Laytonsville area together in a systematic and extensively researched protest that would become more fervent and more vocal as the time came closer for County Executive james P. Gleason to pick several finalist sites for more study. As Gleason still studies, the Laytonsville residents cvontinue their crusade.
Early last week, the crusade led them to an unplanned confrontation. As Gleason emerged fromt eh county office building cafeteria with a cup of coffee Tuesday morning, about 30 Laytonsville residents cornered him.
"They peppered him with charges and technical questions," said his aide, Charles Maier. Gleson spent about 25 minutes listening and insisting he had made no decision at that time. Still the residents called for him to meet with them, so discuss the site selection process and to look at the sites.
The distress of Laytonsville residents began Sept. 13, when Don McComb received maps from the county showing where the landfill sites were to be. He had written for them a week before when he had read in a county newspaper that one proposed site was on Sundown Road near Laytonsville.
"I came home that day around 6 p.m.," Marcia McComb said, remembering that she had worked that day at their candle store in Alexandria, "and he said to me, 'You know that landfill site we read about on Sundown road? Well, there's not one there, Marcia, but there are five in Laytonsville, and one of them is at the end of Griffith Road,'". Griffith road is up the street from the McComb home.
Laytonsville, with its rural and rolling land, has not been a hotbed of community activism.
"Laytonsville is a quiet, peaceful little spot," said marcia McComb. "We've never had reason to get involved. But our attitude has been that we're not going to let people take advantage of us."
"We realized the necessity fo having a civic assocaition," Mrs. McComb said. The first step toward organization started with Don McComb. He called the Lauers and Neighbors Al Abert and Russ Shafer, and the organization sprang up around their block. Thirty-five people from the block came to a meeting on Sept. 18. Mrs. Lauer showed the map of the sites to negihbor Judith Whalen, who scanned it for the locations of the landfill sites.
"When I saw the map," Whalen recoutned, "I said, 'Well, let's see, you go to the left, the right, to the south, to the southeast . . .' And you're surrounded. Within a mile of my house, there are five. I was shocked, really. We've lived here for three years. We spent three years before that looking for a house with enough land to do the things we wanted to do with our yard."
So Mrs. Whalen joined the effort.
"When I got a flyer from Judy Whalen and Sharon Lauer in my mailbox, I thought about it for a day and a half," said priscilla Benmer, of Brooke Knolls Road.
"I thought, well, I just cna't live with a landfill. I called Mrs. Whalen. "In the seven weeks since then, they have worked together every weekday, and sometimes weekends, researching landfills.
Meanwhile, the flyers drew 80 people to a meeting Sept. 25. On Oct. 10, 160 residents created the Greater Laytonsville Civic Association (GLAYCA). On Oct. 27, after weeks of research, 300 to 400 Laytonscville residents, armed with facts and questions, confronted county planner Andrea Weirich and consultants to the county landfill study at a meeting at the Laytonsville elementary School.
The first efforts in organizing the civic association were calm, level-headed attempts to obtain and organize information, according to Mrs. McComb. About eight people who barely knew each other, if at all, would sit in the McCombs' dining room one evening every week over cider and coffee and cookies to discuss the information they had received. Each person around the table would tell whom he or she had contacted and what had been found out.
"At one point, eight-foot by six-foot maps were stapled to the bare walls in our dining room," Marcia McComb recalled, laughing.
While Mrs. McComb received phone calls from interested neighbors a couple of hours each day, all the residents were involved int he great letter-writing campaign.
"I wrote to (County Executive) Gleason, (Environmental Planning Office head) sobers, Weirich, and (Sen.) Chuck Percy," said Mrs. Lauer, who is still a registered voter in Illinois.
Meanwhile, whalen and Benner wrote, called and resdarched constantly. Ten phone calls to the University of Maryland resulted in the name of Franklin B. Flower, an environmental science specialist from Rutgers University who sent Mrs. Whalen a report he had written called "Damage to Vegetation by Landfill Gases."
"He said there is no place in the country where they have successfully commercially farmed over landfill," said Mrs. Whalen.
Mrs. Whalen also contacted the county Division of Fire Prevention, the state Department of Environmental Services and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington for more information on the hazards of methane gas produced from landfills and possible contamination of the many wells tha tLaytonsville residents use.
Stacks fo information came for the two women. Sometimes Priscilla Benner would spread it out on her family room floor while her children Suzanne, 9, and Andy, 8, helped collate and staple. "This has just become our whole lives," Mrs. Whalen said with a sigh.
Together, she and Priscilla Benner have spent $300 for copying and postage for the inforamtion they have distributed on a regular basis to seven newspapers, all the Montgomery County Council members, state delegates, Gleason, Weirich, Sobers, Hanson, and others.
As COunty Executive James Gleason ponders the sites to decide which ones will be selected for further study, the fight in Laytonsville goes on. But the network of people involved has spread, and there are more people to do work, Mrs. McComb said. There are no more evening strategy sessions at her house, and her husband, Don, tries to spend less time on landfill and more time on his own job.
"I've learned how to walk out the door even when the telephone is ringing," Marcia McComb said.