In a televised debate that aired live Thursday evening on Harford Cable Network, County Executive David Craig insisted any opposition to having a waste transfer station on Route 7 in Joppa is just a matter of residents being against having infrastructure in their backyards.
"It's not uncommon for people being opposed to any government facility being built in their neighborhood," Craig said, citing the examples of local communities being opposed to an expanded detention center, the water treatment plant in Abingdon and a treatment plant in Perryman.
"Everywhere you build anything, it's understandable," he said about opposition.
Craig sat for the 30-minute "debate" with County Councilman Dion Guthrie, who explained he is not against the concept of a waste transfer facility but does not want one in Joppa. The program was moderated by Eddie Hopkins, and the format allowed for viewers to call in and ask the participants questions.
"We absolutely need to deal with our waste," Guthrie, who represents the Joppa and Edgewood areas, said.
Guthrie, however, said the Route 7 site is not in the county's solid waste plan, while two other properties around the Route 40 corridor are.
"It's just the wrong place for this kind of facility," he said. "I would like us to try to find a place that might work."
Craig made it clear that would not be an option.
"Other properties are not located in the proper area, they're not big enough or they're too far away," he said, adding this is not a political issue for him because he will be out of office by the time the $20 million facility is completed.
"Government is about infrastructure. We need it; we have to have something," he said.
Guthrie asked Craig why a proposal from a private company to haul trash away by rail was dismissed by the county administration.
Craig said that option was considered five years ago, and it would be much more expensive than partnering with Maryland Environmental Service – a quasi-public, state government sanctioned agency - as he intends to do.
"MES cannot make money," Craig said, comparing a contract with a private company to a cell phone plan that offers steep discounts initially but costs considerably more in the long run.
"That's the problem with a private company," he said. "The price can go up exponentially after the first five years."
As expected, Guthrie and Craig also debated the exact amount of truck traffic expected, which has been the major point of contention for residents.
Guthrie said truck traffic is already a problem with the Wawa store near the site, as trucks have been turning into Trinity Church and causing damage as they make a U-turn from I-95 to get to Wawa.
Guthrie said the county administration had estimated the facility will create an additional 400 truck trips per day, but Craig said this estimate is wrong and that the number is closer to 180.
He based his figure on current trash collection routes in the county and said the estimated traffic to the facility will amount to one truck every nine minutes.
Craig noted he lives in an area near a quarry in Havre de Grace that gets much more truck traffic than the proposed Joppa facility would get.
"I understand what it's like to have trucks come through," he said.
Craig also said he saw 17 vehicles go through the traffic light one time at the affected Joppa intersection (Routes 7 and 152), and traffic back-ups are not a unique problem to that area.
"That happens everywhere," he said.
Several callers during the show also expressed concerns about traffic, including how the facility would affect response times from the nearby Joppa-Magnolia fire station.
Four people called into the show, and each mentioned their concerns about increased traffic and public safety issues, in particular with the Joppa-Magnolia fire station. The trash facility will be between the fire station and may residential neighborhoods to the east.
One of the callers, named Michelle, pointed out that Route 7 already backs up when there are accidents on I-95. "I don't see how it can support 400 trucks," she said, adding: "You are going to cut us off from the rest of Harford County."
Another caller, from the Gunpowder neighborhood, raised the question of fire equipment getting through when the transfer station is open.
Craig said the neighborhood has other fire stations, although that one may be more prominent, and the caller pointed out that other connections to Route 7, such as Joppa Farm Road, can't handle most fire trucks because of the low clearance at the CSX railroad overpass.
Craig said he expects there will be some road improvements, mainly creating a shoulder to better accommodate the truck traffic.
He added, however: "Whether they're going to make further improvements down the way would probably not be something the state would recommend," as Route 7 is a state road.
In any case, Craig noted the county still has to complete an environmental assessment of the transfer station site, as well as a traffic study in conjunction with the State Highway Administration.