A group of 1,200 residents of Prince William County has mounted a campaign against a construction debris landfill proposed for a site near Haymarket, saying it is concerned about possible ground water contamination and underground fires.

Resource Conservation Management Inc., a Virginia-based firm, presented a proposal to the county in March for a 30-acre debris landfill on a 375-acre site off Rte. 15 that includes plans for a three-part liner system, a ground water monitoring system and fire control provisions. Debris landfills can accept stumps, concrete and other debris from construction sites.

An organization called HALT-Dump (Homeowners Against Landfill Tracts) and a group called the Northern Virginia Citizens Association organized a protest meeting two weeks ago that brought out 500 people.

"The developer is telling us that state regulations will give us a state-of-the-art landfill," said HALT spokeswoman Sharon Goodman. "Well, the Challenger rocket was considered state-of-the-art, too." HALT President Stanley Owens said the group is raising funds to hire an attorney if it needs one. "I call it our war chest," he said. "We're going to fight this all the way."

Officials at the meeting told the residents that they will work to have the residents' questions answered before the proposal goes to a public hearing.

The county planning staff has reviewed the landfill proposal and has sent it to several county agencies for further study. A landfill feasibility study prepared by the county recently did not indicate the proposed site as a good one for a debris landfill, but Planning Director Roger Snyder said that the study does not rule out the Resource Conservation Management proposal.

"There are many factors to take into consideration, including whether the soil is good enough to handle a landfill," Snyder said. "But we do believe that the people who live and work in Prince William shouldn't have their peace of mind shattered."

The county has only one operating debris landfill, which is in Dumfries. Snyder said that because of the amount of construction in the fast-growing county, at least one more landfill is needed to cut down the amount of time trucks spend on the roads, which wear down under such loads.

According to county sanitary expert Douglas Miller, the county is concerned about leachate, a liquid that percolates through debris, and about the amount of earth cover on the site. Because there is only five feet of earth before bedrock is encountered on the site, the landfill will rise 160 feet when it is completed, Miller said. Miller said the health department is concerned about whether arriving landfill materials and ground water quality will be strictly monitored and about what will be visible from the road.

The state has no regulations governing debris landfills, but it recently issued a statement saying that debris landfill operators must follow the regulations for sanitary landfills, Miller said. "When a landfill is privately owned, we wonder, when you can charge as much as $100 per truckload, whether each truckload will be monitored for garbage or hazardous material."

Michael Lubeley, attorney for Resource Conservation Management, said the firm is working closely with an engineer to answer all of the county and residents' questions before a public hearing is scheduled before the Planning Commission. No date has been set for a hearing.

One question, Lubeley said, is the concern about underground fires. County fire marshal John O'Neill said that such fires are too deep and too hot to be fought with conventional methods. In addition, O'Neill said, there were no plans in the proposal to dig wells, making the lack of an adequate water source to put out fires another worry.

"We know there are legitimate concerns, and my client intends to have all the answers before we meet again with county staff to discuss this proposal," Lubeley said.

Residents say that while a debris landfill is necessary in the county, it is not an appropriate land use for a rural residential area. The land in question is zoned for agriculture but is close to many houses and sits on the Occoquan watershed, which provides drinking water for 700,000 Prince William and Fairfax County residents.

Gainesville Supervisor Tony Guiffre, whose district includes the site, said that while a landfill is allowed with a special use permit under the county zoning ordinance, such a use is more appropriate for an industrial site. Guiffre said the county's 7,000-acre industrial tract in the I-66 corridor is the best place for a debris landfill.

He added that the county should own all landfills to ensure stringent monitoring. "The technology is there to make landfills safe," Guiffre said. "I believe we should take care of our own construction trash in this county. But not on Rte. 15."