A trash dump local officials say is illegal remains in the back yards of three Prince William County homeowners despite months of complaints and a county lawsuit against the builders, say exasperated residents of the Riverview Estates development near Manassas.

Dennis Mulhearn, one of the three property owners, said the dump is unsightly and a danger to his five children, aged 15 months to 13 years. When they bought their home early this year, the Mulhearns were told the dump, which contained trees cleared from the area during construction, would soon be cleared off, he said. Instead, other trash, including construction materials and old furniture, has been dumped there, Mulhearn added.

A spokeswoman for the developer, Battlefield Builders Inc., said the county legal action "is not an active lawsuit" because Prince William officials and the developer have reached an agreement. Battlefield will "put in writing" that it intends to spread a "layer of cover dirt" over the area and seed it, and the county will drop the suit, said Mary Ann Ghadban, the developer's vice president for sales and marketing. She said the company had spread one layer of dirt on the dump recently.

Riverview Estates homes sit on large, wooded lots and range in price from $130,000 to about $150,000.

According to assistant county attorney Stephen A. MacIsaac, his office and the builders "are in the process of agreeing" on how Battlefield will close out the dump. The developer will submit a "closure plan" prepared by an engineer, detailing how it plans to remove the dump.

The plan must include excavating, grading, drainage, seeding, and Battlefield's continuing responsibility for maintenance of the site for "a period" of time, he said. The developer must excavate to the level of a three-foot cap of earth it put there in the past, and put in two feet of clean fill before grading and seeding it, MacIsaac said.

The terms of an agreement will be drafted into a consent order, which would have to be approved by state and county health officials, and then issued by a judge. It would become a court order, MacIsaac said.

Before county officials approve a final agreement, however, "we would run it by the homeowners," he said. "If they are not happy, we may have to make changes. We will make every effort to address their concerns."

Several residents said they fear sinkholes will develop if only another layer of dirt is spread over the landfill, and that the gas rising from the dump is dangerous. MacIsaac said health officials have told him the gas is methane, formed by the decay of wood and other organic material in the dump, and is not being released "in a quantity to be harmful to the health."

About 100 homes have been built and are occupied in Riverview Estates, and the builder plans to erect another 100 to 150 houses, Ghadban said.

Asked why the dump was located on homeowners' property, Ghadban said it was there before the houses were built and sold and that "what is illegal now was not illegal then," when Prince William County "allowed us to put stumps" and other material in the land.

MacIsaac said, however, that the area "has been an illegal landfill from the start," existing without the required county permit for a landfill.

The developer has applied for special use permits to locate two other "stump dumps" for trees and brush cleared out of the way of planned construction. The permits must be issued by the county board of supervisors.

A group of homeowners has been formed to protest the presence of the trash dump as well as other problems including unpaved roads and failure by the developer, Battlefield Builders, to complete work covered by warranties, according to several residents.

Jim Dymond, who bought his Riverview Estates home two years ago, said he and many residents were told the roads would be paved by now.

The unpaved roads "are not maintained. The drainage is so bad, the sides of the roads are washing away," Dymond said. "I've been here two years and I have a list of 27 or 28 items repairs or other work the builders haven't done yet."

Ghadban said the company "will pave the roads as soon as possible," noting that the work cannot be done during the winter months. "We are trying to have the work done" by mid-November, but cannot guarantee it, she said. "We intend to take care of and satisfy their needs" for work on homes, Ghadban said. "We have been trying to schedule the services, but we are not getting calls back."

Several weeks ago many of the homeowners put "For Sale" signs in their front yards as a protest. Mulhearn, Dymond and others said they are serious about selling their homes and would do so if offered the prices they want.

Ghadban said other residents who are satisfied with the development feel the signs "are hurting them. I don't see what good they the signs are doing anybody.