Prince George's County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan recommended yesterday that a $4 million sludge treatment facility, reopened since January after a four-month shutdown, be permanently closed "at the earliest possible date" because of costs and continuing odor problems.
In a letter to Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission General Manager Robert McGarry, Hogan said the cost of running the Western Branch facility at the limited capacity he ordered in January are too high to justify keeping it open. He suggested that the WSSC switch totally to landspreading, a method of sewage sludge disposal in use before the Upper Marlboro facility was built.
Hogan, who first ordered the brand new facility closed in September after nearby residents complained of "unbearable and sickening odors," also told McGarry that "despite the commission's best efforts, odors still occasionally emanate from the facility and disturb residents of the area. It appears that . . . there likely would be occasional odor problems no matter how well the facility is managed."
Citizens who have opposed the Western Branch facility both praised Hogan's recommendation and expressed doubt it will be carried out. "I think it's terrific and wonderful that Mr. Hogan wants to do this," said Eileen Bucher, a member of the Sewer Control Committee, a citizens' group formed both to fight the Western Branch facility and investigate other sludge disposal options, "but that doesn't mean it will close . . . And even if it does close our group will continue to be active because there is a better way."
McGarry said yesterday the WSSC has been examining the possibility of closing the facility on its own and that Hogan's move came as no surprise. Western Branch was built to process up to 600 tons of sludge, the solid waste from raw sewage, per day, he said, and has been processing only about 100 tons per day since Hogan allowed the plant to reopen in January. The remaining 250 tons for which the county is responsible have been spread on land sites.