Members of the Sugarloaf Citizens Association had pretty much written off Montgomery County Council member William E. Hanna Jr. There was just no way, they figured, to convince Hanna that a massive trash incinerator planned by the county didn't belong in Dickerson.
Of the seven council members, Hanna lives nearest the alternate location in Shady Grove and had perhaps the most to lose politically. Hanna, a two-term council member with an admitted reputation of being hardheaded, was predisposed to vote for Dickerson.
Mapping out its strategy, the Sugarloaf group didn't even include Hanna on its list of lawmakers to lobby. Better to reason with council members Bruce Adams or Isiah Leggett, who pride themselves on their thoughtful approach to issues.
Appeals also would be made to Michael L. Subin, the one council member elected from the upcounty and who once, as representative for the Chamber of Commerce, testifed at a hearing that Shady Grove was the better location.
So, when the council last month got down to the business of a straw vote to see who was lined up where and Hanna ended up queued behind Shady Grove, no one was more surprised than the people from Dickerson. Except perhaps for William E. Hanna Jr.
"It seemed neat and convenient to be in favor of Dickerson, so I was leaning toward Dickerson," said Hanna, recalling how he went into the month of weekly work sessions looking for a reason to support a vote for Dickerson.
"I just couldn't find anything," he said. "Upon examination, every reason evaporated."
Hanna easily ticks off the disadvantages of Dickerson. It will cost more to build, because the county doesn't own the land as it does at Shady Grove, and it will cost more to operate (garbage and ash will be hauled by rail 18 miles between Shady Grove and Dickerson). There are more risks with Dickerson, such as train derailments or strikes, and there is no potential to sell steam to heat and cool nearby buildings, as was the case with the developing Shady Grove area.
Not only did those reasons convince Hanna to vote for Shady Grove, they also propelled him to do something he had vowed not to do: namely, get out in front and lobby the issue.
"I have a lot of questions about Dickerson and I'll ask them, but I am not going to fall on my sword over this one," he had privately opined less than 24 hours before the straw vote.
All the facts, though, Hanna said, pointed in the other direction and "even though I wanted to be quiet, meant to be quiet, I couldn't. I had to make the case for what I felt was best for the county."
But Hanna's case for Shady Grove ultimately didn't have a chance. Political considerations -- be it fear of voter retaliation or of "Even though I wanted to be quiet, meant to be quiet, I couldn't. I had to make the case for what I felt was best for the county."
-- William E. Hanna Jr.
the clout of unnamed developers or of the force of Shady Grove activists -- gave a single-minded momentum to Dickerson that couldn't be interrupted.
In the days leading up to the council's July 7 meeting and in the remarkable six-hour debate that preceded the vote that day, Hanna and Council President Rose Crenca combined to argue Shady Grove as the only logical choice.
For example, they all but demolished the argument that a Shady Grove project would take longer to get up and operating -- previously cited by Subin and Leggett as the reason they opted for Dickerson.
Crenca had demanded more information, and time charts prepared by county Environmental Protection Department Director John L. Menke showed that projects at both locations would take five years.
Then, in a one-two questioning of Menke, Hanna and Crenca had revealed that locating the facility in Dickerson meant the need to acquire even more land at Shady Grove for the rail operation, more permits and more public hearings.
Council member Neal Potter made his points that Shady Grove was the only logical choice through a series of questions that belied a six-week absence from the council as he recovered from a heart attack.
Subin's fingers traced spheres in the air to make his point that they were arguing in circles, and Leggett remained silent.
Council member Michael L. Gudis, who had been gently told that voting for a more expensive project might be an issue for him down the road if he tries to reach his aspiration of state comptroller, asked a lot of money questions and tried to suggest there were hidden costs in going to Shady Grove. Adams argued that the facility didn't belong in a populated area.
And, so they voted -- 4 to 3 for Dickerson.
County Executive Sidney Kramer sat in the audience and eyeballed his four votes, and the only contrast with the June straw vote was Potter's added vote for Shady Grove.
Crenca had said she knew how the debate would turn out but she permitted the exhaustive debate because "the truth has to be put before the people."
Hanna said his purpose had been to try to move his colleagues from a political decision to a logical decision.
Three of the four opting for Dickerson are newcomers to the council and in their election campaigns had to varying degrees taken stands against Shady Grove. Voters expect their office seekers to take positions on controversial matters and then to keep their promises.
Dickerson residents view that fact with bitterness. The decision, they say, comes down to a campaign promise -- something said at a time when there is not as much information as when the vote is taken.
Hanna says he doesn't think he took a position in his last campaign. He is, though, sure of one thing: "Of all the votes taken in the last five years, there was not a one that I felt more comfortable with in terms of being right."