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Westminster landfill closed to residential self-haulers for 15 days to reduce coronavirus risk

Vehicles line up at the scales at the Carroll County Northern Landfill and Resource Recovery Park in Westminster Thursday, April 9, 2020.
Vehicles line up at the scales at the Carroll County Northern Landfill and Resource Recovery Park in Westminster Thursday, April 9, 2020.(Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

After pleading with residents to limit nonessential landfill trips in order to reduce risk of spreading the coronavirus, Carroll County’s commissioners voted Thursday to close Northern Landfill in Westminster to residential self-haulers for 15 days.

The closure will begin April 12, with the reopening planned for April 27, as suggested by Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1. The Board of County Commissioners voted, 3-2, in favor of Wantz’s motion. Commissioners Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, and Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, voted in opposition.

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The landfill will remain open to licensed haulers, commercial business vehicles and account holders. Residents who usually haul their own trash may pay a commercial hauler to take their waste, recycling, yard waste and scrap metal to the landfill. During the time of closure to residents, county staff will attempt to find a solution to reduce traffic at the landfill.

Despite steps the county has taken in the past few weeks to discourage visits to the landfill, the rate remains high, as do concerns for the safety of staff and residents who gather there.

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“We begged folks to stop or do less, and it’s just not working,” Wantz said.

Concerned about spreading the coronavirus, the county issued a news release March 27 asking residents to limit outings to the landfill to essential trips and recommending credit cards as the preferred payment method. Those with nonperishable waste were asked to wait to dispose of it.

Then, the commissioners voted March 31 to close Hoods Mill Landfill in Woodbine and mandate that only credit cards or checks be accepted at Northern Landfill. In a news release, the county again urged residents and businesses to hold off on nonessential landfill trips.

“It appears that message has not been received by the citizens," said Jeff Castonguay, director of Public Works. “They just continue to line up and stack up onto [Md.] 140 and keep on coming in.”

The Carroll County Northern Landfill and Resource Recovery Park in Westminster is pictured Thursday, April 9, 2020. The landfill will be closed to residents April 12-26.
The Carroll County Northern Landfill and Resource Recovery Park in Westminster is pictured Thursday, April 9, 2020. The landfill will be closed to residents April 12-26.(Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

At Thursday’s commissioners meeting, Castonguay shared information that seemed to indicate these measures failed to produce the intended effect. On April 4 and 7 about 600 people went over the scales to drop off trash each day, he said, noting that does not include yard waste. On Saturday there were 603 transactions with 570 self haulers, he said, and on Monday there were 594 transactions with 475 self haulers.

On March 21, before the county took steps to limit customers, 631 paying customers drove across the scales at Northern Landfill to drop off trash, according to Dwight Amoss, county landfill manager.

As other counties have decided to stop accepting trash from residential self-haulers, Castonguay said people from outside Carroll have come to Northern Landfill.

“It’s putting a lot of strain on our staff,” he said.

While some residents have been appreciative of their service, others have yelled at county staff over the long lines at Northern Landfill and for closing Hoods Mill, according to Castonguay.

He recommended the commissioners close the landfill to residential self-haulers for 30 days.

“Because people won’t listen we’re jamming everybody else up,” Wantz said. “Maybe while they’re coming up with a cure for [coronavirus] they could come up with a cure for stupid because if you would just listen we wouldn’t be in this place right now.”

The commissioners discussed alternatives such as requiring permits, checking identification to confirm residency and scheduling dropoff times. Castonguay and Cliff Engle, bureau chief of solid waste, said these measures would be difficult to implement with the resources they have, and also fail to limit staff’s interactions with the public.

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Rothstein suggested the county continue to push information out to residents and ask them to limit their trips to the landfill. He and Bouchat thought closing the landfill could lead to illegal dumping, which Castonguay said has happened recently.

“If we shut down it’s going to create chaos,” Rothstein said.

The disposal of waste is considered an essential service, according to the governor’s orders relating to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. But county officials have expressed concern about increased risk of exposure for landfill workers.

Castonguay watched security camera footage at the landfill during the meeting and said he’d just seen about 20 vehicles come through with mattresses, a box spring, carpet and lumber.

Engle said he has seen residents dropping off nonperishable material that could wait to be trashed.

“We’re doing this not because we want to put a hardship on our citizens, but think about the folks that are working at our facility there," Wantz said.

“It’s for the residents’ safety as well,” Engle added.

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