Joppa residents made it clear during Monday night's Joppa Community Council meeting: they don't want a solid waste transfer station in the heart of one of southwestern Harford County's oldest communities.
Residents filled nearly half of Joppatowne High School's cafeteria to learn more about and to speak out against the transfer station plan, which the county government has very quietly put together in recent months.
The proposed transfer station would be at 814 Philadelphia Road, formerly known as Coleman Plecker's World of Golf. The site is close to the Joppa-Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company and the I-95/Route 152 interchange.
About a dozen people from a crowd of nearly 90 stood up and asked questions or voiced frustrations on an expected increase in traffic, the cleanliness of the station, what this will mean for their property values and a possible tax credit for those living near the station.
One man remarked that Joppa is "the septic tank of the whole county."
The county recently purchased the former Plecker property for $2.9 million, County Councilman Dion Guthrie, who represents Joppa, said during the meeting.
Guthrie added that while nothing has been agreed upon yet, the proposed facility would only transfer trash to final disposal points, would not handle recyclables and "nothing that'll pollute the air." This claim, however, is somewhat contrary to previous statements to The Aegis by Tom Hilton, the county's deputy environmental services director, that the site would be a recycling transfer station.
Guthrie said the original site for the transfer station was going to where the Kohl's distribution center on Trimble Road in Edgewood is, "across the street where all these kids play," but that plan died after legislation was killed by the county council when nearby residents opposed it.
Guthrie added he believes the county administration's previous experience with the Edgewood property is why it has been relatively quiet on its acquisition in Joppa.
The councilman said he wasn't aware the 22-acre property the county purchased on July 25 was to be used for the transfer station until he read it in the newspaper "like everyone else."
Joppa Community Council Chairperson Paula Mullis said she tried to get a county representative to attend Monday's meeting but wasn't successful.
Instead, she read from a message that stated the county doesn't "have any definite plans" and it "wouldn't be realistic" for an official to speak at a community council meeting at this time.
"I honestly tried," Mullis said, referring to her attempt to have a county official speak at the meeting. She added that she would continue to reach out to the government until someone answers the community's questions.
Guthrie said the silver lining to this issue is that the county can't proceed with plans until it receives approval from the county council.
"What's important to us at APG is teaming with the community," Ortiz said. He stressed that he could only speak from the Army's perspective and not the county's.
"The waste-to-energy facility on APG… is a good thing from our vantage point," Ortiz said. "We gain great benefit from that."
The transfer station would provide energy needs on the installation, he explained, such as electricity and power supply.
The county provides municipal solid waste for steam power that goes to APG, but the future of that arrangement is in limbo. The existing incinerator, owned by the county but on Army property in Joppa, is nearing the end of its useful life, and the Army is actively considering other alternatives.
"We always, with every plan ever developed, address your disposal needs," Ortiz said.
The life of the incinerator will end in 2016, Ortiz added, which is why planning is already under way. "We're not going to waste time," he added.
Dale Gomez, who lives in the Gunpowder community near the former Plecker property, asked Ortiz if the Army would be held accountable on the Clean Air Act, if and when a new incinerator is built.
"We, as the Army, are very concerned about clean air," he responded.
With so many concerns and not enough answers, Mullis suggested that residents form a small committee to gather information on the issue and bring it to the monthly community council meetings. About five people raised their hands when Mullis asked who would want to volunteer for the committee.
State Sen. Nancy Jacobs and Del. Glen Glass, who were both at Monday's meeting, said a bill was previously introduced in the State Senate that would give a tax credit to residents who would potentially be affected by the transfer station and similar facilities. Jacobs said the bill passed the Senate but was eventually killed. She added it will be introduced again.
Community council member Gloria Moon said residents should get a tour of the property since it is owned by the county. She also suggested the property would be great for a senior center, which is needed in the community.
Donna Hausman, of the 1000 block of Joppa Road, said the best way to have the residents' voices heard is to "flood [County Executive] David Craig's office" with phone calls commenting on the station.
In an informal session with two editors from The Aegis last summer, Craig said he was committed to putting a trash transfer station in the Route 40 area.
Craig said having the transfer station would give the county leverage in its dealings with the Army and other potential future end users for the county's trash. He also said it would provide a convenient place for residents in the lower and central part of the county to dispose of their trash. The county's only public landfill is in Scarboro, about seven miles north of Bel Air.