Mountains that form when the chips are down

Sun Staff

Annapolis now has a mountaintop view to go along with its waterfront vistas.

A pile of mulch that is about two stories high and 50 feet wide has sprung up at Truxton Heights Park, the result of city workers grinding tree limbs and trunks destroyed by Tropical Storm Isabel.

"We ought to give it a name," said Mayor Ellen O. Moyer.

The pile contains about 130,000 cubic yards of mulch, city officials estimate. That is enough to cover the yards of 43,000 homes.

"It's a lot to have in one place, and we're still not done," said Phil Scrivener, the city's yard waste manager, nodding toward a pile of branches that needs to be ground up.

Annapolis' mulch mountain is part of a range that is cropping up throughout the state as municipalities chip tons of branches and tree trunks that were shattered by Isabel more than a month ago.

To the amazement of Anne Arundel County leaders and employees, many of the piles have grown to more than 30 feet tall and several hundred feet long.

"Everyone's got one," said Jim Irvin, Howard County's public works director.

Most are trying to give away the chipped wood, but it is still too green to be of much use to gardeners, officials say. So area officials are preparing to live with their respective mulch piles for at least the winter and hope that it will be carted away by gardeners come spring.

Officials estimate that Isabel caused nearly $4 billion in damage.

In Baltimore County, workers have mulched about 550 tons of wood in their Eastern Sanitary Landfill in White Marsh and are hoping residents will take it, said Mary Roper, the county's solid waste management bureau chief.

Howard County officials estimate that the chipped remains of nearly 1,000 trees have gone into their 40-foot-wide pile at the county's Marriottsville landfill, Irvin said. The only reason the pile is not bigger, Irvin said, is because "that's as high as [the wood chippers] can go."

Anne Arundel County has processed more than 10,000 tons of debris at its Millersville landfill, said county public works spokeswoman Pam Jordan.

Annapolis' 1-ton wood chipper has been working overtime since Sept. 19, when workers began collecting broken branches.

Since the storm, the machine has been humming nearly seven hours a day, three times a week. It normally only needs to be run once a week, Scrivener said. The mountain is visible from nearby roads, and the smell of sawdust and earth lingers in the air.

The machine broke down temporarily this week. "It's done a hard job," Scrivener said as he and other city workers knelt over the machine, which had a broken part.

City workers plan to turn over the pile every few weeks during the winter and believe it should be almost as good as store-bought mulch by spring, when it can be spread around vegetation to protect it from weeds and can help to regulate the temperature of the soil.

Right now, the mulch is too fresh and could produce too much nitrogen for the soil, Scrivener said. "People will probably come in the spring," he said.

In the meantime, Moyer has her own ideas for the mountain. If there is an appreciable snowfall this winter, she said, "people could go skiing on it."

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