Fourteen tracts of land in rural northern Montgomery County, priced at from $4,000 to $12,000 an acre, are now potential sewage dumping sites, according to county environmental officials.
Only six of the sites, however, could ultimately be selected by the County Council to receive Montgomery's share of sewage sludge, about 800 tons daily, from the Blue Plains Sewage Treatment Plant in southeast Washington. The sites will be chosen after public hearings this spring.
The county must purchase enough land, officials say, to last two years -- the time now considered the minimum needed to build a permanent composting facility in Montgomery that will convert sludge to fertilizer.
Montgomery County, like other jurisdictions flushing sewage to Blue Plains, is under a federal court order to dispose of its share of sludge, the end product of sewage treatment, within its own borders.
"Some of those sites would only last us four to five months," said Dave Wagaman, a county environmental planner, pointing to a huge county map in his office that has possible sludge sites marked off like battlefields.
"Yet each one takes up a notable chunk of the county," he said. "It's a distressful process."
Most distressful, Wagaman and his colleagues acknowledge, will be the public hearings in April, where citizens from each proposed site are expected to oppose the county plan to bury solid waste in their neighborhood.
Citizens around one possible sludge site, near the Howard County line, have already launched protests because of the site's proximity to the Triadelphia Reservoir.
Laytonsville residents object to a tract in their area between Routes 108 and 124. The county's next landfill is now under construction in Laytonsville and citizens say trash and sludge are too much for one community.
"We won't choose until we have more information, and we're getting that now," Wagaman said.
Private consultants, hired by the county, are testing ground and compiling facts on roads, streams and residential neighborhoods near the 14 sites located mostly in Germantown, Poolesville and Olney, to help officials decide where to next send the controversial solid waste matter.
County sludge is currently trucked to a 300-acre tract near Poolesville, purchased by the county for that purpose last summer. But space on that site will soon run out and the county's planned composting plant is snarled in problems, including a dispute over its location in eastern Montgomery County.
Prince George's officials, striving to clean up their county's image, object to the site because it is close to the county border. Montgomery officials counter they chose the Calverton site, and old sand and gravel quarry, for its accesibility to Blue Plains.