Upward or outward? Dorchester trash plan stirs debate

Dorchester Banner/Bob Zimberoff This Oct. 20 photo shows the Eastern Shore Veterans Cemetery with the hill at the New Beulah Sanitary Landfill beyond the trees in the background. Citizens raised concerns about plans for the land fill during the Oct. 18 meeting of the Dorchester County Council.

Dorchester Banner/Bob Zimberoff
This Oct. 20 photo shows the Eastern Shore Veterans Cemetery with the hill at the New Beulah Sanitary Landfill beyond the trees in the background. Citizens raised concerns about plans for the landfill during the Oct. 18 meeting of the Dorchester County Council.

CAMBRIDGE — There was some heated trash talking at the Oct. 18 meeting of the Dorchester County Council.

At issue was the New Beulah Sanitary Landfill, its proximity to the Eastern Shore Veterans Cemetery, the draft version of the county’s 2017-2026 Solid Waste Management plan, and expanding the landfill upward rather than outward. Currently, an artificial hill at the landfill dominates the area, and can be seen from basically all points of the cemetery. The landfill predates the cemetery.

The council’s task at the meeting was to vote whether or not to send the draft to the Maryland Department of the Environment. Once the draft is sent to MDE, the department will likely send the plan back to the county council with comments that may be incorporated into the plan. The council may then add it’s own comments and create a new draft of the plan.

The current draft is available for public viewing. Once the plan is considered by MDE and reconsidered by the county council, it will move to a period of public comment and a public hearing will be held. However, at the Oct. 18 meeting, Dorchester citizens aired their concerns with the plan and the process.

The draft plan actually contains two plans — one that addresses immediate concerns and another that will allow trash to be distributed at a site further away from the cemetery by expanding outward rather than upward.

Before a motion was made to send the draft to MDE, Councilman Rick Price moved to make the draft available at a public hearing during the next meeting of the county council, “in order for folks to ask questions and get additional information,” he said.

Council President Ricky Travers then said it was too early in the process for a public hearing because the plan is likely to change.
“We have to get approval from the state,” Mr. Travers said. “It’s in draft form.”

Mr. Price’s motion died for lack of a second. A motion was then made to send the draft to MDE. The council voted 4-1 to forward the plan to MDE with Mr. Price voting against the move.

Bill Windsor, a concerned citizen, then stood up and spoke about the plan. Mr. Windsor lives slightly more than a mile from the cemetery and landfill. He is a military veteran who served 32-½ years in the Marines, Air Force and Army. Some of his relatives are buried in the veterans cemetery. Mr. Windsor’s questions began a somewhat heated debate.

“Are we giving them (MDE) two options? Go up is option one, option two is to spread out?” Mr. Windsor asked. “And then if they approve both of those, then we’ll be in a position to go with option A and option B?”

Mr. Travers then explained that there is a proposal in the draft plan to use 67 acres of vacant landfill space away from the cemetery that can take about 8 million cubic yards of trash.

“It will give us landfill space for 50 years and it’s still the same land,” Mr. Travers said emphatically of the plan to expand outward. “And that is not going up. … We will still be going up until that can be approved because it takes at least three years. We only have to go up until we can get cleared for this other proposal.”

Mr. Windsor responded, “That’s a better answer than what I’ve sat here and listened to before all of this because most of our discussions really were geared toward going up, not back. That didn’t seem to be setting well with some people.”

Mr. Windsor then asked about the three-year process and Jeremy Goldman, county manager, answered. According to Mr. Goldman, the county has been working with the state for nearly a year on permits to expand out instead of up. That leaves roughly two years of remaining work.

“We can avoid going beyond the original height by going sideways and stuff like that. We can’t do that, however, until we’re 100 percent sure that we absolutely have the correct permitting,” Mr. Goldman said while stating that the primary plan is to expand outward. “We can’t promise something that we haven’t permitted yet. … We are making good headway, but it’s premature to say this is an absolute yes. Until it’s an absolute yes, it will be irresponsible to remove the ability to go up if necessary.”

Ken Heesh, another concerned citizen from Hurlock, then stood and spoke.

“It’s good to hear that you’re taking the public’s input into account into your decisions,” Mr. Heesh said. “However, it seems that you’re going against 30 years of county precedent.”

According to Mr. Heesh, in the past, a 10-member, public landfill advisory committee was formed to address concerns and advise the council. He said citizens, especially those who live in the northern part of the county near the landfill, want to be involved.

“It seems like that’s all been bypassed,” Mr. Heesh said, and that the county has been working “basically in secret for over a year.”

Mr. Goldman then said that one part of the reason that county officials have been working with MDE for roughly a year is because of expedience and that the committee was not available at a crucial time when the process began. Mr. Travers then shared some of his thoughts on the former committee and its concerns.

“I’ve sat at this table for hours upon hours to listen to what the group says, and there’s two major concerns out of your group — two,” Mr Travers said. “There’s Veterans’ Cemetery and going up. Tonight (we just approved) something we’re trying to get MDE approval of that satisfies both of those. …

“The landfill advisory committee was disbanded last time,” because members couldn’t get along and little was accomplished, Mr. Travers said. “I sat on that committee. … At the end, the members were so disgruntled that they wouldn’t even come to the meetings.”
Mr. Heesh acknowledged that two members of the past committee stopped attending the meetings.

“As far as your solutions go, I think that they’re a good step forward,” Mr. Heesh said, but stated his concern about the landfill expanding upward for two to three more years.

“We found an area that’s going to give us 50 years. It’s already on our land. It’s already on our site. It’s going to be serviced by the same facility that’s there,” Mr Travers said. “I think we’re going in the right direction.”

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