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Hoods Mill Landfill could be closed for good unless Carroll County finds money to meet state requirements

After a recent inspection by the Maryland Department of the Environment, Carroll County officials learned that costly changes will be needed at Hoods Mill Landfill in Woodbine if it is to reopen.

Hoods Mill is a convenience center where Carroll County residents may drop off waste, recyclables and yard waste two Saturdays a month, and are only charged for waste, according to Cliff Engle, bureau chief of solid waste. It has been closed since April 4 due to concerns relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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During that closure, regular inspections continued, Engle told the Board of County Commissioners at its Thursday meeting. Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) took issue with a practice that has been in place since around 2014, Engle estimates.

Typically, residents leave their waste materials on an asphalt pad on the ground, from which a loader takes the waste to tractor-trailers that transport it to Pennsylvania for disposal, Engle said. MDE told the county this practice allows litter to blow away and waste runoff to reach streams.

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Engle said MDE raised issue with this system now because regulations have changed.

“Given MDE’s mission of protection of human health and the environment, stormwater management and water quality are much more of a focus today than they were years ago,” Engle wrote in an email. “Thus, practices that may have been acceptable at that time are no longer acceptable today.”

He said the inspection occurred shortly after the commissioners voted to close Hoods Mill due to the pandemic. Convenience centers like Hoods Mill are typically inspected quarterly, and MDE assigned a new inspector to the region late last year, Engle wrote.

During the commissioners meeting, Engle offered three options to move forward. The commissioners did not make a decision and asked county staff to return with more information at a future meeting.

The options

The cheapest option to reopen the landfill would cost about $50,000, plus $15,000 annually for ongoing labor costs.

Instead of having residents leave waste on the asphalt pad, the county could buy large, wheeled roll-off boxes for material drop-off and then haul them to the Northern Landfill in Westminster for disposal, Engle suggested.

The county already has five boxes and would need to spend about $42,000 for seven more in order to transport all of the waste they typically receive. That does not include the cost to maintain and replace the boxes, Engle noted. Additionally, about 60 more hours of labor per month would be required, costing about $15,000 annually.

To address coronavirus-related concerns, the county would install at Hoods Mill a portable hot water wash sink, plexiglass window covers, a sanitizer station, traffic flow barriers and signage, for about $8,000, Engle said.

The second reopening option is to build a structure around the waste dumping area at Hoods Mill, and to install a floor drain and holding tank for liquid, estimated to cost $400,000, according to Engle.

He acknowledged neither of these reopening options are provided for in the county budget.

wIf the county wants to save money, then it would have to close the landfill. Engle said this would avoid reopening and operational costs in addition to freeing up personnel and funds that could be redirected to the Northern Landfill.

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said he did not know how the county would come up with $5,000, let alone $50,000, for this unexpected expense.

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“This is a tough one, but I think it all comes down to fiscal responsibility,” he said. “We have no idea where anything’s coming from when it comes to the budget.”

The commissioners in May adopted the fiscal year 2021 budget, which is $1.2 million less than the previous year’s. Throughout the budget process, commissioners and county staff voiced concerns about the uncertainty that COVID-19 has brought to the economic landscape.

Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, said he has the most to lose if Hoods Mill closes, because it is in his district, but acknowledged that the county is “under tremendous financial strain.”

Bouchat asked Engle if there was a way for the county to partner with Hoods Mill’s neighbor and the county’s tenant, WeCare Denali, to take residents’ yard waste if the landfill had to close. That way, residents in the southern part of the county could at least have a place nearby to take their yard waste, rather than travel to Northern Landfill.

WeCare Denali — a compost, mulch and yard waste company — has leased property adjacent to Hoods Mill since about 2008, according to Engle. It provides free grinding services to Northern Landfill, he said.

The county is coming up on a lease renewal with WeCare Denali, Engle said, and yard waste disposal could possibly be worked into that agreement. Based on communications with the company, Engle believes it is open to the conversation.

“In principle, they are very willing to sit down and add to the lease taking county residents’ yard waste free of charge at least on the two days of the month that we currently use,” Engle said. “While it’s not everybody who uses that facility, it would be some relief for a percentage or a portion of the folks who do use Hoods Mill.”

The commissioners chose to wait to decide the fate of Hoods Mill Landfill until more was known about a possible partnership with WeCare Denali. It is not clear when such a partnership might be negotiated.

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