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Council members continue to hope for investigation into waste transfer station

BY BRYNA ZUMER, bzumer@theaegis.com

5:18 PM EDT, May 15, 2012

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Several Harford County Council members remain concerned about the process behind the proposed waste transfer station in Joppa.

Councilman Dion Guthrie said Tuesday he expected to introduce amendments during that evening's council meeting to remove the transfer facility from the capital budget proposed for 2013.

He and Councilman Joe Woods had also said earlier they wanted an investigation into the process that went into Harford County Executive David Craig's decision to build the $3.5 million facility.

They are still discussing possibilities with the attorney general's office, Guthrie said, explaining he could not say any more.

"We have had some discussions and they are looking into it," Guthrie said, declining to elaborate.

The already-contentious project became even more convoluted when Guthrie and Woods met with Col. Orlando Ortiz, garrison commander of Aberdeen Proving Ground, at the end of April.

According to the councilmen, Ortiz, who is retiring this summer, said it was the county's decision to pull out of a waste disposal agreement with the Army.

Craig replied at the time that Guthrie and Woods were re-interpreting that conversation for political purposes, and that the Army and the county had, in fact, come to a mutual decision.

The transfer station was also prominent during the council's first budget hearing two weeks ago. About 100 people attended the hearing at Bel Air High School to protest the project, with Guthrie and Woods wearing T-shirts in support of the protesters.

On Tuesday, another councilman, Dick Slutzky, said he thinks more analysis of what went on behind the scenes is needed.

"There's been a lot of what I would call 'he said, she said,' and a lot of hyperbole involved with this whole situation," Slutzky said.

He said the situation requires a serious, in-depth investigation, adding that with such a sensitive issue, Harford residents deserve to have the confidence of knowing their elected officials did all the necessary research on their behalf.

Slutzky said the council's current slate, with the budget process and the controversial fire and emergency medical service commission, is keeping all the council members very busy.

"Most of us are under the same gun right now," he said, explaining that any transfer station investigation might have to wait.

"I think when the dust clears from this budget process, there will be more time for everyone to get more involved," he said. "Right now, there's a lot of other things on the plate."

The transfer station debate began after Craig said the Army had decided against building a new waste-to-energy incinerator to replace the 25-year-old facility that burns the county's trash to produce steam for heating and cooling buildings at APG's Edgewood Area.

The Army's position forced the county to find an alternative disposal plan, leading Craig to strike a deal with Maryland Environmental Service for it to haul the trash away from a transfer station Craig plans for the county to build near the I-95/Route 152 interchange in Joppa.

The site is in Guthrie's council district, but will become part of Woods' district after the 2014 election.

In March, several county officials and representatives from MES failed to mollify about 80 Joppa residents with a presentation justifying the project during a community council meeting.

Environmental service director Tom Hilton explained the Joppa site was selected because it makes more sense than property the county owns in Street, by the Scarboro Road landfill, because the Joppa site is close to I-95 and more cost effective.

Before that, Guthrie had also brought in D. Moore & Associates, a group that proposed an alternative waste disposal method that would ship the county's trash out on trains.

Guthrie has continued to hold up that proposal as a viable alternative, but the county executive still disagrees.