MDE holds landfill expansion public hearing

HURLOCK — Who would have thought that trash disposal would be so controversial? But the long-standing discussion includes local, federal, and state government; environmental groups, and citizens – all of whom represent different sides of a contentious issue. An informational meeting called by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) gave residents a final chance to voice their views about Dorchester County’s application for a permit to expand the “New Beulah” landfill cell vertically. The meeting, at the Hurlock American Legion Post 243 on June 7, drew about 15 people.

In 2014 the Dorchester County Council submitted a proposal by Geosyntech Consultants to MDE as a solution to the literal mountain of trash, known not so affectionately by local residents as “Mt. Trashmore,” that will be filled to capacity by 2018. Despite continuing objections by area citizens, the council and its engineers found a vertical solution to be the most environmentally and financially sound option.

Martha Hynson, chief of the solid waste management division for MDE said the meeting was required in Phase V of the permitting process. The county asked permission to vertically expand the height of “new Beulah” by an additional 68’. The intent is to go vertical not horizontal.

Ms. Hynson noted the meeting was advertised by sending notices to property owners within 1000 feet of the landfill, to elected legislative representatives, and by public notice in the local paper. In an interview with The Banner, Kenneth Heesh, president of Concerned Citizens of North Dorchester, felt the notification process was badly flawed. He said, “I did not receive notification of the meeting. They (MDE) had the names and addresses of all attendees at a 2014 hearing. They should have also notified municipalities and none were notified.”

Geosyntech project engineer Jennifer Padgett presented a brief overview of the project and a detailed description of how landfill control systems work to protect groundwater, surface water, and gas emissions.

Ms. Padgett said she would “refresh your memories about what we are going to do and most importantly show you how protective the design is in protecting the environment.” She began with a slide of the landfill site. “The area has been used and will continue to be used for waste,” said Ms. Padgett. The extension is a footprint expansion of the 26.2 acre site, currently 107 feet high and will be raised to 175 feet. The 23 percent enlargement will extend the cell’s capacity until 2024.

Surface and groundwater monitoring wells measure pollutants; natural and methane gas releases are collected and odor-controlled via a vertical extraction well; and a soil, clay, sand, and thick membrane liners control system collects “leachates” (pollutants) which are pumped to a storage tank for removal. Three stormwater management ponds surround the site. There is no uncontrolled run-off. At some point there is hope that the gas releases can be used for energy production.

Asked how many energy generators the methane gas could run to produce electricity, Ms. Hynson explained there is no requirement to install a generator because the landfill is not big enough to require a gas collection system. “But the county has elected to collect it and flare it off. It’s their choice not the MDE.”

Nearby resident William Windsor asked if there is a study to build horizontally. Ms. Hynson replied, “We don’t have an application to expand out.” Mr. Windsor said, “So we don’t have an alternative plan for when the vertical expansion is filled up. We did this study and spent a lot of money but nobody bothered to have a plan that would be less unsightly than going up. We’re not in the mountains.”
Asked about potential groundwater contamination Ms. Hynson explained that groundwater testing is done by a third party and sent to a certified lab for analysis. Twice a year the county reports the results to the MDE.

Ms. Hynson mentioned the Zero Waste Initiative was created through executive order by former Gov. Martin O’Malley. It prohibits municipal landfills from any kind of material expansion unless an application is submitted to the MDE before the order took effect in January 2014. It still stands although the current Hogan administration could rescind it. The application for vertical expansion was submitted prior to January 2014.

Each county must have a 10-year solid waste management plan that describes how they will manage their solid waste. Ms. Hynson noted, “Before we can issue a permit needed for an expansion or new landfill that proposal has to be in the solid waste management plan (SWMP).

Mr. Heesh asked if the SWMP drafted for 2017 to 2027 has been approved. His understanding is that it has not. County Public Works Director Tom Moore said “We’ve gotten an indication that it has been approved. I’ll have to check that and make sure.” Mr. Moore said an SWMP was submitted some time ago but he was not certain if the public has had a chance to review it.

Resident David Owens represented the Eastern Shore Scenic Railroad and explained the group “is trying to operate a scenic railroad alongside the landfill. It could be a multimillion dollar tourist attraction for the whole Shore.” He noted concerns about additional odors and a larger mound than currently exists. He asked if they have considered alternatives. Ms. Hynson said there are other alternatives but the final decisions belong to the county.

Board member of the Dorchester County for Planned Growth, Margaret Anzalones, said her group is opposed to the height increase for many reasons: It was never designed to go above 75’; is surrounded by water; a rising water table will affect the stability of the trash mountain; trash blows off the landfill now and it will only get worse. She said, “Every recycled item is one less item in the landfill. Elected officials have not provided the leadership to make this a crucial issue.” She believes “recycling is the key.”

In his testimony, Mr. Heese noted that at the 2014 Phase I public meeting he and his group believed that the county and MDE did not follow established procedures or good engineering practices dictated by the SWMP and local zoning laws. “From 2006-2016 the SWMP had many options outlined that would have eliminated the need for expansion. The county has a long history of creating these plans, putting them on the shelf, and not following through on any of them.”

Mr. Heese added that for 30 years the county used an advisory committee to create the SWMP plans. This time councilmen opted not to have a landfill advisory committee with public input to create a revised SWMP or amend the existing plan.

In a Banner interview, Mr. Heesh cited some points of contention. He questioned if an environmental assessment was done to determine potential adverse effects on historical sites like Rte. 16 which runs in front of the landfill and is part of the Underground Railroad trail. He explained that a 100-year flood plain map from before 2008 was used that shows the water rise in the area. “They had a recent one. Why not use the latest documentation?” And, he said the geological surveys were from the 70s.

The area is surrounded by water (Gravel Run, Hunting Creek, and a large pond) that, if it rises, would submerge the leaching system. He explained the increased height means more side surface area and a minimum top area so instead of being absorbed rainfall will run down the sides. “They are supposed to be designing for a 24 hour/25 year storm.”

In 1997 Mr. Heesh was on the SWMP advisory committee. “We put in height limitations and banned incineration. It took us over a year of fighting to keep it in. This time around they decided not to call us.” He said, “There’s no way to expand (new Beulah) horizontally so the current SWMP plan is to take it over by the railroad tracks. When they depleted fill dirt excavation in one spot they jumped across the tracks next to Gravel Branch Road and excavated about 30 acres. He says the SWMP shows they are going to fill that in to build a new landfill.

During the meeting Ms. Hynson referred to a 2013 permit application for a new horizontal landfill was shelved but is still on file. Because it was submitted before the January 2014 deadline it could be re-activated. Mr. Heesh believes that during the vertical expansion the county will apply for the horizontal expansion.

The Phase V meeting was the requisite hearing at the very end of the review process to take formal public comments. The MDE will respond to those comments plus all written testimony received until the end of June to determine the final recommendation at the end of the process. According to many concerned citizens the end is, and has been, a foregone conclusion.

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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