A score of irate Bowie citizens came to Upper Marlboro this week to tell the Prince George's County Council just what they thought of a recent decision to put a landfill in the middle of their neighborhood.
Responding to state approval last week of a health permit that would allow the county to begin dumping solid waste and garbage, members of the Bowie Home Protection Association questioned the county's role in developing the landfill at a site just northwest of Old Bowie on Rte. 197.
The county, through the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, purchased the 218-acre site as a "creative disposal project," allowing them to build recreational facilities on top of the compacted garbage. The MNCPPC has contracted with a private corporation, the Waste Management Co., to manage the landfill for the 15 years planners estimate will be needed to complete the project.
Bowie homeowners objected to the "underhanded" and "poorly conceived" methods the county used to inform them of the landfill project. They also objected in general to having a landfill in their backyards.
"We have never been adequately informed, by the county, by Park and Planning, by Waste Management, as to what is going on there," said Nancy Brown. "We request that all operating permits be withheld until legal, health and environmental impacts are studied. We came to ask you, as our elected officials, not to permit the issuance of permits for this dump."
With a carefully orchestrated series of speakers, the Bowie group told council members that their "rights as citizens of this county" had been overlooked in the decision to place the landfill in their neighborhood.
"I have lived in the area for 55 years," said Martha Bell. "And my parents and grandparents lived here before me. My husband is retired, but we pay our taxes every year. Why does the Planning Commission think that just because we are black and poor they can put a dump next to us?"
Bell and others also questioned the MNCPPC exemption from a county Department of Public works ruling on sanitary landfills, which requires "a 1,000 foot setback from homes" unless "unusual circumstances make a closer location both desirable and acceptable."
Alan Jones, of the Public Works Department, told the council that "for economical reason the site has to have an exception in setbacks."
Jones said if there were a 200-foot setback on the property, as recommended by the county, the usable acreage for dumping would be reduced to 150 acres. The state health permit increased the setback requirement to 400 feet, but the Bowie group told the council that 45 homes are located within 1,000 feet of the dumping grounds.
"I run off a shalow well," said Dennis Trudo, "and I'm not too crazy about having the trash dumped only 400 feet from my house." Trudo's house is next to the landfill entrance.
Jones and several other county officials assured the council that adequate steps had been taken to provide for the health and safety of the area near the landfill.
"This is the most innovative site of its kind in the state of Maryland," said John Koonce of the county Health Department. Koonce, who said he reviewed the permit and "had a special concern as a resident of Bowie," gave the council his personal assurance that he was satisfied that erosion and water contamination from the site would not seriously affect the neighboring water supply.
The council, after hearing both sides of the issue, did not respond to the Bowie group's request to delay plans for using the site.
Instead, the council, which badly needs a site to dump refuge now transported to a landfill just north of Upper Marlboro, ordered "an ongoing dialogue" between the county, health department officials and Bowie residents.
"We must form a study group with them to provide a fairly instant identification of negative impacts," said Council Chairman Francis White. "Everybody wants us to pick up that trash, but nobody wants us to put it down."
Council members did not indicate if the "dialogue" would result in any action on the Bowie request, and it is uncertain, at this point, when the county might begin using the site.
Members of the Bowie group said they were not satisfied with the council decision. "We are appealing the state permit," said Gerald Muller, "and will go to federal court if we have to. We just want to know why they are above the law, when we citizens have to be bound by it."