Homes in Bowerman-Loreley Beach in eastern Baltimore County look like they're on prime property, with views of the Bird River and easy access to a marina.
But the waterfront community also has a feature neighbors say isn't quite as idyllic: the 375-acre Eastern Sanitary Landfill.
"There's no way to predict when it's going to smell," said resident Betsy Eisbart.
Residents want compensation for living near the landfill, and state lawmakers are considering it. A measure is currently before the General Assembly to authorize the county to grant about 120 families near the landfill relief from property taxes.
County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's administration opposes the bill.
Residents say they've suffered the impact from the landfill, which opened in the mid-1980s, and fear it'll get worse now that Baltimore County has entered into an agreement to bring trash from Harford County to a transfer station at the landfill beginning in 2016.
State Sen. J.B. Jennings, a Republican whose district includes the neighborhood near the facility, said it's "only fair" for the county to offer tax relief.
"There were houses over there before the landfill," said Jennings, who sponsored the legislation in the Senate. "The county's going to be making money off this facility from Harford County, and they could give a little bit back to the community that's going to be impacted so negatively."
The Senate unanimously passed the legislation March 14, but it's languishing in the House of Delegates. Kamenetz administration officials declined to comment on the measure for this article, but in written testimony to lawmakers, county lobbyist Yolanda Winkler wrote that no other private properties in the county receive similar credits, and she cited a cost to the county of $336,000 a year for lost revenues.
Legislative analysts for the state estimate the tax breaks would cost about $256,000.
The community of single-family homes is an enclave off busy Route 40. Debbie Romano said she wanted to host her daughter's wedding at her house, but didn't for fear of the odors that sometimes overwhelm her.
"Spring comes and you want to open your windows and enjoy the spring, and you don't," Romano said. "You close them back up."
Residents say that when the landfill opened in the 1980s, county officials predicted it would have a life span of a few decades. "Now, there's no end in sight," said Richard Murray, who has lived there since 1980.
Edward C. Adams Jr., director of the county's Department of Public Works, said the county has no written record of making claims about when the landfill would close, though he acknowledges in the 1980s, 30 years was generally the expected life span of such facilities. Technology, recycling and other factors now allow landfills to last longer, he said.
Frederick Sussman, a lawyer for the Bowerman-Loreley Beach Community Association, said the deal with Harford County means residents could be affected by the landfill for decades to come.
"Community residents have faced nuisances, from odors from the landfill and the mulching operation, dust, debris, noise from trucks and in some instances, methane gas," he said, noting that some homes close to the facility have methane probes installed by the county.
Trash from Harford won't actually end up in the landfill. Under the agreement between Baltimore and Harford counties, refuse will be taken to a transfer station there, then shipped out of state.
Baltimore County plans to charge Harford fees as part of the deal. Adams said that after paying contractors and hauling costs, the county will reap about $3 to $4 per ton on refuse that is brought in.
He rejects a claim Sussman made in a letter to lawmakers — that the county would receive about $7.3 million in revenue the first year of the arrangement. Adams said that revenue number is incorrect; he estimates the county's profit will be about $300,000.
Del. John Olszewski Jr., a Dundalk Democrat who chairs the county's House delegation, said he supports the idea of giving relief to residents who live near nuisance facilities, but it shouldn't be limited only to Bowerman-Loreley Beach. For example, some of his constituents live near busy ports with noisy truck traffic, he said.
"If we're going to provide relief and support for residents living near refuse facilities, we should think about other locations that also merit attention," Olszewski said.
The delegation is likely to vote on the bill next week, Olszewski said, but he indicated some members have concern about the costs.
County Councilman David Marks, who represents the neighborhood, said the community deserves some type of compensation, but he is concerned that the tax break "could have a ripple effect."
"Other communities may ask for the same thing," he said.
Marks said the county could help residents in other ways, such as planting trees and otherwise investing in the landfill facility to improve conditions there.
"Regardless of whether the tax break passes or not, I think that community deserves some type of compensation or remediation," he said.
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