County seeks to get illegal dump cleaned up for third time
By By Christian Alexandersen and Times Staff Writer
Oct 01, 2014 | 3:00 AM
Carroll County government is expecting to clean up about 500 tons of trash illegally dumped on a residential property outside of Hampstead after 730 tons had been cleaned up over the past few years.
The Carroll County Board of Commissioners voted 3-0 Tuesday to ask the property's lien holder to clean up the mess. If that doesn't work, the county will pay to clean up the property, located in the 1900 block of Hanover Pike, again, then go through the court system to recover the cost. The cost of cleaning up the property has been estimated at between $30,000 and $100,000, according to county staff.
Commissioners Haven Shoemaker and Doug Howard recused themselves from the vote. Shoemaker served as the property owner's lawyer, and Howard performs accounting work for waste disposal businesses.
Developer Martin K.P. Hill, who paid the property's $104,000 lien in June 2013 and had no part in the trash accumulation, said he doesn't expect to pay for the cleanup. By owning the tax lien, Hill has the option to foreclose on the property.
"I am fully aware that if the county pays to clean it up, they're going to put that on the tax bill as an additional lien," Hill said. "If I choose to move forward on the foreclosure on the tax lien, I'll have to pay it. It doesn't make a lot of sense for me to pay it upfront if I foreclose on the lien. I'm going to have to pay it anyway."
County Attorney Tim Burke said if Hill does not want to pay for the cleanup, the county will seek to recover the costs through the legal system.
"We'd have to look at ways for recovering it [by] going back to the tax sale and do whatever we can do to recover that cost or the bulk of the cost," Burke said.
The issue began in 2010 when the county got a court order requiring Barry Barnes to clean up 181.5 tons of trash that was illegally dumped on his property, according to a timeline created by county staff. Barnes performed the cleanup but never paid the $14,160.12 in trash tipping fees at the county landfill and was prohibited from further use of the facility.
By 2011, Barnes had accumulated another 549 tons of trash on his property, which the county cleaned up for $23,500 for a contractor and $42,955.76 in tipping fees, according to the timeline.
A month after the second cleanup, officials found Barnes dumping trash on his property again. The county took Barnes to court in January.
Barnes was ordered to clean up the property by the court but didn't. As a result, Barnes was held in contempt of court, arrested and jailed on April 25.
Circuit Court Judge Michael Galloway sentenced Barnes to five years in prison with four years suspended, a $15,000 fine which was also suspended and three years supervised probation with the special condition that he cooperate with the Carroll County government in cleaning up his property.
During this process, Hill paid $104,553.18 at a June 2013 tax sale to cover 2010 tipping fees, 2011 cleanup and tipping fees, court fines and interest associated with the property.
If Hill chooses to foreclose on the property, he would then own it, which has its downsides. Hill would be responsible for paying all cleanup costs, which he estimates to be about $100,000. He also would held accountable if the garbage on the property caused any environmental damage to the land, surrounding wells or local aquifers.
Hill's other option is not to foreclose on the property and let the tax lien expire in June 2015, which means he would be out the $104,000 he paid. The property would then revert to Barnes, who would be responsible for the cost of cleaning up the property.
"One way or the other, I'm going to take a beating in this," Hill said. "I really need to make a decision between now and [when the tax lien expires]. That decision will be based on what exposure I'm accepting for the environmental impact that may have been placed on the property."
Hill said initial tests have indicated that surrounding wells have not been affected by the illegal junkyard. But, he said, that doesn't mean environmental issues won't crop up in the future.
"I don't know what all has been dumped in that site and neither does the county," Hill said. "At this point we're prepared to take a loss of the [$104,000] that we've put into it rather than buying the potential liability that may be there."