A proposed solid waste transfer station and recycling center in northern St. Mary's County would be either smelly or odorless, toxic or environmentally friendly, and either reduce or increase traffic along Route 5.

No one knew for sure at a hearing before the St. Mary's County commissioners Tuesday night.

Also in question was whether the Charlotte Hall center would provide a long-term or short-term solution to the county's dire trash situation, and whether it lies inside or outside a zoning classification prohibiting a solid-waste facility.

Lots of perspectives, but few definitive answers, came out of the second hearing on the proposed transfer station, which drew about 150 residents to Leonardtown. In the end, it appeared few opinions had changed, and the forum evolved into a tug of war between supporters and opponents vying for the commissioners' backing. The board will vote in coming weeks on whether to approve an amendment to the Solid Waste Management Plan that would give a green light to building the station. No county funding is involved.

On one hand, there were folks like Ben Burroughs, who owns 60 acres in Charlotte Hall adjacent to the land where Waste Management of Maryland proposes to build its trash transfer station and recycling center. With tears in his eyes, Burrough spoke of the decades of hard work it took him to develop his shopping center, which houses a popular Amish market at one end and a liquor store at the other.

"We don't need the odor, we don't need the traffic, we don't need it there," Burroughs addressed the commissioners. "Don't put a stinkin' transfer station right by me. I beg you."

On the other side were equally earnest residents in support of the station, which would be built as part of Mill Run Plaza, a commercial development on a 67-acre site on the northbound side of Route 5. Lisa Erichsen, a Waste Management employee who moved to the area because she considered it an ideal place to raise her children, said the facility would save St. Mary's County money that could be better used for schools and other youth services.

"This project can only bring good to this county," Erichsen said. "We can't wait for Calvert to tell us we can't come over there anymore. We have to make a decision."

Trash from St. Mary's County is now hauled to a trash transfer station in Calvert County, then to a huge landfill in Virginia. St. Andrews Landfill in St. Mary's, off Route 4 south of Route 235, is full and no longer accepts loads or refuse. If approved, Waste Management's transfer station would move 1,000 tons of solid waste a day, provide about 100 jobs, would be unseen and odorless from the road and would increase the county's tax revenue by $150,000, said Bill Mattingly, operations manager for the company.

"If you've got to build this facility, you've got to build it for the future," Mattingly said.

But others, including some commissioners, questioned Mattingly's view of the station's benefits. Residents and commissioners raised concerns about the amount of municipal water the facility would use, the company's track record in complying with restrictions on solid waste handling, possible "host fees" as incentives for the county, the amount of trash hauled in from other counties, toxic liquid seeping into land around the station and potentially smelly trucks tying up traffic in the area.

"Property values next to the facility would decrease, wetlands would get the runoff from leaky trucks . . . and no one would want to go to Charlotte Hall," said Norman Haller, a Mechanicsville resident.

If the commissioners eventually vote to deny permission to construct the Waste Management transfer station, the county likely would have to construct its own facility, which would carry a price tag of more than $1 million--an option that has divided county taxpayers.

CAPTION: Waste Management's Bill Mattingly speaks at Tuesday's hearing before the St. Mary's County commissioners.