Several Loudoun County residents told the Board of Supervisors this week that they would rather have landfills be county-operated than privately run.

"It is a question of trust . . . . The public trust is with the county and not with a private operator who is running a landfill for profit," said Aldie resident Paul Garvin. A 458-acre site in Aldie is one of four being considered for a private landfill if the board approves an amendment to the zoning ordinance that would allow such facilities.

The only landfill in Loudoun, on Rte. 621 in the Dulles District, has been run by the county since 1971. In 1981, voters approved a bond issue that allowed the county to expand it.

The current zoning ordinance prohibits private landfills other than by special exception and then only in certain areas. The amendment that would allow private landfills has been recommended by both the Planning Commission and the planning staff, who tacked on the same strict regulations that govern the county operation.

There is no debris landfill in the county, and contractors putting in new residential and commercial units consequently have to go out of the county to dump construction debris. Terry Wharton, director of the Technical Services Department, which would oversee private landfills, raised the question of whether the county is obligated to meet that need.

Mercer Supervisor Thomas Dodson, whose district includes Aldie, asked County Attorney Edward Finnegan to determine if the county could be charged with restraint of trade if it reserves the landfill business for itself. Dodson's concern, he said later, is for the environment.

"I am firmly convinced that the public should be in the landfill business and not private enterprise."

Supervisor Andrew Bird III said that since it is getting increasingly more difficult for local governments to obtain liability insurance, it might be preferable for the private sector to have the responsibility. "The county is in the landfill business but it has dozens of other concerns," Bird said. "A private operator would be more careful because he has all his eggs in one basket."

Dodson noted that "no amount of insurance can cover environmental damage and the threat to health that result if a landfill is poorly operated." In addition, he said, the county could be included in any class-action suit brought against a private landfill owner on the grounds that the county failed to properly supervise the operation.

"The landfill business is different than any other business in that the worse job you do, the more money you make," he said.

Two of the firms that have indicated an interest in the landfill business are NoVa Potomac, a Leesburg consulting firm owned by former Leesburg town manager John Niccols, and the Brownell Construction Co., owned by Bruce Brownell, son of Supervisor James Brownell. Brownell has said he would participate in the zoning amendment process but will abstain from voting if an application by his son appears before the board. He was out of town and missed Monday's meeting.

Withers Tucker, a spokesman for the Aldie Civic Association, told the board that control over private landfill would be time-consuming and could cause some violations to slip through the cracks.

"We've heard 'please be patient; we're busy,' on other zoning violations. We'd hear it from county staff on this issue too. People just trust the county government to run a landfill more than a private owner. The county has a responsibility to provide a health environment." No date was set for the next hearing on the issue to give the county staff time to respond to all questions raised by the board.