What'sto become of Montgomery County's "green wedge," its "central park," its "agricultural preserve"? The county's wide open spaces in and around Dickerson were once considered so important. Now they are being built up, paved over and filled in. The county's "rural agricultural preserve," as the master plan refers to it, is the home of a PEPCO generating power plant and its ash landfill, of sludge disposal, a rubble fill, a yard-waste compost site and a police firing range. It is the future home of an expanded PEPCO power plant, an expanded sludge facility, a mass burn incinerator, another landfill and an interstate highway known as the Western Bypass. Industrial waste is intruding on an area treasured not only by its residents but also by cyclists, hikers, hunters, canoeists, horseback riders and Sunday drivers.
On the one hand the county professes to encourage and support agriculture; on the other hand it swallows up agricultural land for nonagricultural uses. The decision to build a mass-burn incinerator and a new landfill in the Dickerson-Beallsville district, thereby removing another 650 acres from its agricultural preserve, is just one more example of the county's ill-advised solid-waste plan.
The new landfill's threat to ground water, surface water and essential well water is horrifying, according to the research of my homeowners' coalition. The fractured rock under the Dickerson area and the region's topography mean that runoff from the so-called Site 2 landfill will enter the Potomac River (a mere three-tenths of a mile away) and could contaminate the drinking water for Montgomery, Prince George's, Rockville, Loudoun, Arlington and Fairfax counties and the District. Pollutants entering the Potomac will inevitably find their way to the Chesapeake Bay, which the state of Maryland and its neighbors are attempting to clean up.
All residents of the rural upper county are dependent on well water. Those wells are fed by a major aquifer or underground water source. The aquifer is replenished by rainfall that percolates down to it. When rain is filtered through toxic ash and through the landfill liner (as no liner has ever been developed that does not leak), wells for miles around may become polluted, as may the underground network of aquifers and the Potomac. What will it cost to supply safe drinking water to the thousands of rural homes and the growing town of Poolesville?
Environmental issues aside (and they can't be put aside), the economics of mass burn should terrify every citizen of the county. In the first place, there has been no honest estimate of the total cost. The best guess made by knowledgeable accountants is that construction of the incinerator itself and land acquisition will run approximately $350 million. The landfill is estimated to be another $50 million. Railroad development and construction will be another $50 million. Transportation expenses cannot even be calculated, because the county and CSX will not disclose the terms of their contract. But CSX will be in a position to charge whatever it thinks it can get away with once the county is committed to haul trash by rail.
Further, a dedicated road must be built from the railroad to the incinerator and then from the incinerator to the landfill. Cost estimates for this 2.5-mile stretch of road are between $5 and $6 million. Rubble and trash that cannot be processed will be hauled by trucks. There has been no estimate of this aspect of the operation.
It won't come as any surprise when costs escalate. But since no one agency has full responsibility, all (the Northeast Waste Disposal Authority, the county, the state and the vendor, Ogden-Martin) can stand around and point fingers at each other when costs rage out of control. Do they think that the citizens of Montgomery County won't be able to figure out that we are paying dearly in increased trash removal bills and property taxes?
The county should reconsider its waste-disposal plan and take into account what it is doing to its precious farmland. Tractor-trailers and dump trucks on the area's narrow, rural and historic roads will not be compatible with the slow-moving tractors and combines of the agricultural community. And Route 28, the main artery, has been designated a Maryland Scenic Highway. The county's consultant on this issue said the landfill won't be seen from Sugarloaf Mountain. I don't believe it. From atop Sugarloaf one can already see Pepco's stacks. Soon one will be able to make out Mt. Trashmore.
The Dickerson community has done more than its share to help the county get rid of its waste. It doesn't care to take any more. -- Jane Hunter is president of the Beallsville-Dickerson Coalition.