A roomful of Joppa residents were angry a bill, passed Tuesday by the Harford County Council in hopes of providing more public input in selecting a waste disposal site, only included a mandatory 150-foot buffer instead of a 500-foot one.
Councilman Dion Guthrie brought his constituents out in droves to the hearing on the bill, which was introduced by Council members Joe Woods and Mary Ann Lisanti; Councilman Chad Shrodes later requested to be added as a co-sponsor.
The angry residents jammed the temporary council chambers in the school board's meeting room to the point where people had to stand in the back of the room.
Guthrie said he would only support the bill if it included an amendment for a minimum 500-foot buffer zone from residential areas, but that motion died when no one else on the council supported it.
A waste transfer station has been proposed to be built on the 24-acre former Coleman Plecker property off Route 7 near Route 152 and I-95 in Joppa, despite protests from nearby residents. Without getting an appraisal beforehand, the county bought the property for $2.9 million last summer.
"I cannot believe that anyone who lives in a home or residential property would want to live within 500 feet of such a space," Guthrie said. "You can call it a transfer station, a dump, whatever you want… There was not one single person who came here tonight, who testified on behalf of this bill, without this amendment."
"It's time that Joppa gets a break. It's time to stop dumping on Joppatowne and Edgewood," he said, receiving a loud round of applause from his supporters.
Guthrie's amendment would likely have made it difficult, though not impossible, for the county to use the Plecker property. Though the county must follow its own zoning rules, it also can apply for variances and other exceptions like any property owner.
When the motion for Guthrie's amendment died for lack of a second, the crowd was equally emotional, shouting comments like "unbelievable," and "don't run for re-election," until Council President Billy Boniface had to call the room to order.
Asked by Lisanti how the 500-foot number was selected, Guthrie said, "1,000 would have been better but I would have expected I couldn't get 1,000 feet through, because it's too far, so I compromised."
Earlier that night, 23 residents had signed up to speak in support of the bill only if it included the buffer amendment.
Most said they thought the bill was a good start, but others were focused on trying to overturn the county's plan to put the waste transfer station on the Plecker property.
Michael Woodruff, of Joppa, said the site was completely wrong for a waste facility.
"I think it would just completely destroy our property values, that we can never recoup," he said.
Morita Bruce, of Fallston, said she supported the bill but also asked for more protective amendments.
"I believe it takes some very important and crucial steps," she said of the legislation.
Mike Rose, of Joppa, said a committee should be assembled to study any potential waste facility site and include public feedback.
"This county needs to set standards for these types of facilities," he said.
Council members defended their rejection of the Guthrie amendment and their support of the bill, saying theirs was a decision that would be fair to all parts of the county.
Lisanti explained the bill would require a community input meeting and more information provided to the public, as well as feedback from the public, before any such site was selected.
"The problem has been heretofore that we haven't, as a county, since 2005, created a comprehensive plan for how we are going to deal with solid waste," Lisanti said.
She explained the bill's other amendments were the result of comments from residents, not just from Joppa but from communities like Perryman and Aberdeen.
"The purpose of these amendments are to make sure these [regulations] are equitably distributed across-the-board," she said. "This bill puts in community input."
She said no matter what site is selected, it would not come to the council without public input.
"It's very easy to get wrapped up… and it's really easy in an issue like this to just take sides," she said, adding she represents not District 6 in Havre de Grace but the county seal behind the dais.
Councilman Joe Woods said the 150-foot buffer is only a starting point.
"That does not mean 500 is out of the picture," said Woods, whose council district with include the Plecker property after a recent redistricting takes effect in 2014. "It is the minimum, so it doesn't cut us short in a potential area where it will work."
Boniface tried to keep the focus on the specific bill, instead of the residents' concern about the Plecker property.
"This bill is about putting a good process in place and not pitting one area against another," he said.
"I felt that this bill was a good start… I think it should be well known that while I am sitting up here, I am not thinking of the district but of the county as a whole," he added.
Councilman Dick Slutzky also criticized Guthrie's proposal of an alternative waste disposal plan of shipping waste out of the county, calling it "reprehensible" to pawn waste off on another community.
Guthrie said Slutzky's concerns would have been answered had he attended the Joppa Community Council meeting Monday, when Guthrie had invited all the council members and a representative of Craig's administration.
None of them came.