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Dean Minnich: When it comes to dumping, the good old days are gone | COMMENTARY

To continue a dialog about landfill solutions, it would be helpful to delve a little deeper into the pile of debris left in the wake of efforts to truly explore a number of alternatives to operating a landfill in Carroll County.

The long and short of the problem is, the county has left itself at the mercy of federal and state mandates about what we do with the tons of trash generated every day. We have taken the short view, and it will cost us in the long run.

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For those who like simple answers, it would indeed seem that finding someplace else to put trash, some other way to dispose of it, could be as easy as it was back in the old days – those days Trump dangles in front of us as the time when America was great. No one got a ticket for littering if they tossed a bag or trash out the window of a car along Route 66.

Back in the good old days, if you lived on a farm, there was a trash dump somewhere on untilled land, perhaps on the edge of a woodlot, where the few things that could not be repaired, like a tire with a blown sidewall, or even a whole car, would be allowed to sit to wait out the passage of time.

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Over time, these dumps were used by neighbors, towns and businesses, and became repositories for unwanted paints, solvents, insecticides, mine or industrial wastes, rotted foodstuffs, mattresses, anything that you just wanted to go away.

If you lived in a town, there was no trash pickup. You had a steel drum or a three-walled stack of concrete blocks in the back yard where you burned paper and anything else you considered combustible. You hauled wet garbage out to one of the area dumps, perhaps one of those expanded farm dumps within a mile or so of most settlements, and offloaded it and forgot about it. I know of at least one site where all kinds of things now considered hazardous waste lie beneath neatly filled and landscaped lawns and nicely maintained homes that rely on well water.

But people got tired of cleaning up after their free-spirited neighbors. Rules were devised, places set aside for orderly trash management. That was progress – then.

The days of landfills are numbered. Water still runs downhill. Maryland is a battleground for environmental issues because of the Chesapeake Bay, and waters that feed it are increasingly undrinkable. It is virtually impossible to site a landfill without negative impact on water quality. It takes 10 years to do the engineering and permitting work, public hearings, lawsuits, and then there is no guarantee that it will be funded.

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That’s why the county began contracting with rural places in West Virginia and Pennsylvania to haul trash away from here and let it disappear. But those areas have citizens who don’t want our trash, and a hauling contract can be canceled or expire faster than we could find an alternative destination. Then we’d be forced to fill the land we have, throwing any combination of calculations of time and costs out the window.

Other technologies exist that would reuse even the declining amount of waste that is buried. The county sent employees to assess plants in European countries with waste-to-energy plants that use what is left after extensive recycling as fuel to generate electricity. It was the direction Carroll County was going in a partnership with Frederick County. It failed to win public support because it was both misunderstood and misrepresented.

We took morning drives to see two plants near us. One is near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and another is near Springfield, Virginia. When we arrived, the plants were in full operation, but you could not hear any noise, see any emissions in the air, or smell any odors. They passed muster with the EPA, and they were helping to pay for themselves with the electricity they produced.

Dean Minnich writes from Westminster.

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