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No clear solution to Carroll County’s waste storage, disposal issues

Carroll County commissioners spent two hours discussing the future of county trash during a work session with the Department of Public Works on Thursday afternoon.

The county’s solid waste enterprise fund — which finances the county’s solid waste system including the Northern Landfill at Westminster, recycling programs, public outreach and education — is operating at a loss.

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This coupled with a regional waste storage crisis has left the county with limited options for the future of its waste operations.

Clifford Engle, who joined the county as bureau chief of solid waste last year, and Jeffrey Castonguay, director of Public Works, presented the county’s options in making the solid waste enterprise sustainable.

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The county has contracts with private collectors to transfer trash in a bid to extend the county’s only landfill for 100 years.

“The same question has been posed for at least the last 20 years without finding a solution,” Engle told the board about making the waste enterprise sustainable.

Campaign signs thrown away at the Northern Landfill after an election in the early 1990s.
Campaign signs thrown away at the Northern Landfill after an election in the early 1990s. (Courtesy Ken Koons)

Currently, the solid waste enterprise requires a little over $11 million in funding, but has not recouped that cost in revenue, and has been operating at a loss for years.

Engle told the Times that when the county’s trash facilities were designed in the 1980s, the county’s population was significantly lower.

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“The landfill was built to manage waste from a smaller county,” Engle said. “So as we grow as a population and in the business and commercial side it becomes more and more difficult to have that operation be efficient.”

Engle offered the commissioners three possible solutions to the county’s incurring loss with the solid waste enterprise fund — controlling the flow of the waste through a county ordinance or implementing collection districts so the bureau can take control of the material; gaining revenue through a systems benefit change (a fee for waste removal service), or to eliminate waste transfer which would involve full use of the county’s landfill.

Commissioners did not come to an agreement and decided Public Works should conduct a further review into the financial and operational side of the enterprise and report back.

Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said he spoke with officials and leaders in other counties who are having similar landfill issues including Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and Baltimore County Executive John “Johnny O” Olszewski, Jr.

“We’re all going through this. I had a conversation with County Executive Elrich, he doesn’t know what he’s going to do down there, they have no more land to put any landfill on,” Wantz said at the meeting. “I talked with Johnny O. Same thing in Baltimore County. Maybe the answer here is the regional approach. Maybe we should all pool our money together to begin to fix this.”

In terms of waste production, Carroll County is considered “a small player” according to Castonguay, producing up to 120,000 tons of trash a year compared to the million of tons in some other counties.

The large amount of trash in other counties may pose a problem for Carroll, Castonguay warned at the meeting.

Eric Klezer, left, of Eldersburg, with his children E.J., 16, and Mary, 14, dispose of tree limbs in the brushpile at the Carroll County Resource Recovery Park Northern Landfill and Recycling Center in Westminster Monday, April 20, 2020.
Eric Klezer, left, of Eldersburg, with his children E.J., 16, and Mary, 14, dispose of tree limbs in the brushpile at the Carroll County Resource Recovery Park Northern Landfill and Recycling Center in Westminster Monday, April 20, 2020. (Dylan Slagle/Carroll County Times)

“Montgomery County has their own recycling center and has the infrastructure to do a lot of things themselves, but now there are environmental concerns and their incinerator may go away. That puts a strain on us because that trash has to go somewhere because if they don’t have landfill space it has to transfer to somewhere over the border like Pennsylvania,” Castonguay said. “And that pushes us out as a small player from transferring our trash to Pennsylvania, now we have to build a rail system to send it somewhere else.”

While landfilling is considered the most cost-efficient way of handling waste currently, Engle warned the commissioners that current bills being considered during the current session of the Maryland General Assembly may regulate waste management and reverse any decision the commissioners make.

“This is where we quiver every time something comes in the legislation when its environmental,” Constonguay said, though he stressed he did care about air quality.

Wantz also expressed frustration with the bills in Annapolis comparing the process of making decisions on the county’s waste disposal to being like a “hamster on a wheel.”

““I’m frustrated because I hate to see bills get put into Annapolis, which is the beginning stages of them thinking that they know better than us and that troubles me,” Wantz said. “We have got to get on top of this or else they’re going to tell us what we’re going to do.”

An increase in landfill space would also have consequences, per Engle, including a reduction of landfill life that would require a long-term plan and finding other properties to continue with a disposal model.

“We can only bury so much for so long,” Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, said. “We have to solve the entire problem as we’re looking at it. Right now we need to get the trash out of here.”

Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, said he doesn’t believe the transferring model to be optimal either.

“Transporting the trash out is not a solution,” Bouchat said. “It’s never going to be unless the price of fuel drops. Its going to exponentially go up.”

At the end of the meeting the only agreement made was that more research was needed.

“We’ve got to get every possible avenue of where we need to go with this on paper,” Wantz said, “and look at it again.”

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)

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