Laytonsville citizens lined up a battery of technical experts at a forum before the Montgomery County Council last week and unleashed a barrage of charges that the county is violating county, state and federal laws in its construction of the unpopular Laytonville landfill.
The forum was the latest round in a three-year-old battle between the county and Laytonsville citizens, who fear the landfill will pollute the town's water supply, which comes from wells.
Faced with a state order to find a new site to dispose of the county's garbage before the present landfill in Rockville overflows, county officials spent months and millions of dollars studying possible sites for the facility. When they finally settled on Laytonsville, residents there vowed to fight it and have raised about $50,000 to hire their own consultants to do battle for them.
Flashing satellite infrared photographs, aerial shots and geological reports, and hefting rock samples, the experts made a 90-minute technical presentation in which they charged that the landfill will pollute the ground and contaminate Laytonsville's wells.
A soils expert testified that soil conditions at the dump would not adequately cleanse the pollution-laden liquid runoff, called leachate, that would drain out of the garbage. A geologist, using satellite pictures and photos of nearly rivers taken from a small plane, showed fault lines and rock formations that would permit leachate to enter the water table. He also contended that the water table in the area is closer to the surface than the county had calculated.
An engineer argued that construction plans provided too thin a layer of soil to cleanse the pollutants out of the runoff, and said the backup leachate collection system that is planned would not work. Finally, a computer expert poked holes in a computer modeling system that a county consultant had used to predict whether the landfill would pollute the ground water around Laytonsville.
The county and Laytonsville residents have been a bitter disagreement about the site and design of the landfill for some time. In 1978, Montgomery County residents overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the county charter, sponsored by state Del. Robin Ficker (R-Montgomery), that prohibits the county from spending money to operate a landfill in residential areas.
The county filed a suit asking for a declaratory ruling that the amendment was invalid, but in October, Circuit Court Judge Joseph Mathias dismissed the suit. The county has appealed that decision.
"We went through the democratic process . . . . We had a free election and (the charter amendment) received a 70 percent vote. Now the county is saying to the people of Laytonsville as well as 70 percent of the people of Montgomery County, 'drop dead,'" said Ficker, who led off speakers at the forum.
Other litigation concerning Latyonsville is pending in court. When the county obtained a state permit to begin construction on the landfill, Laytonsville citizens' lawyers contested it. Early in November, Baltimore City Court Judge Alber Figinski ruled that besides the construction permit, the county also needed a ground water dishcarge permit. The permit has appealed that decision, too.
"Will the county run WSSC (water) lines up (to Laytonsville) to provide us water" if the dump site pollutes the town wells, Laytonsville Mayor Charles White asked. "Will the citizens of Laytonsville have to bear the cost of these lines? Will the citizens have to pay for hookup costs? Will citizens have to pay front-footage benefits? Will they have to pay for water that they didn't want? I have never gotten answers to these questions or wishes. I'd like to get something in writing for this."
Baltimore attorney Robert Smith, retained to represent the citizens, told the council that he believes the council is violating a federal law prohibiting "open dumping" and also needs a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers because the site preparation currently under way is affecting a navigable, trout-filled tributary of the Hawlings River.
Smith said that the county repeatedly has thwarted his efforts to obtain information and reports and that he has had to file formal requests under the county freedom of information statute to obtain some documents. He said the Department of Environmental Construction denied that it has a copy of an $18,000 study that Smith contends shows that the Laytonsville site is inadequate and that the leachate collection system won't work.
"The county has shown no cooperation at all," Smith said. "It has tried to stonewall (our efforts) from the day I got involved with it."
Smith charged that the state had issued the permit even though the county had never submitted all the information the state had requested as a condition for issuing the permit. He also charged that construction documents do not comply with the permit, that elevation figures have been altered and that the state health department has not monitored the project properly.
"The first course of action I would like to see (the council) take is to say to the county executive branch (that they) believe construction ought to be halted," Smith said. "The ought to stop the legal game and the technical-professional game with the people of Montgomery County and agree to reopen the hearings or go ahead and apply for a discharge permit so (this new information) may be on the record. They (the council) can require the county to do that."
The situation is so tangled that council Chairman Scott Fosler was not sure of the next move. He said the council would meet with the environmental construction staff soon.
"I've got a lot of questions for them myself on the basis of what I've heard tonight," Fosler said.