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Dean Minnich: Development deals, not landfill, behind land purchase | COMMENTARY

A decision to spend $13 million on more than 325 acres of land along Route 140 near Reese is not what it seems at first glance. Come to think of it, this isn’t even the first glance: The county essentially considered buying the same plot of land 15 or so years ago and decided against it.

I know because I was one of the commissioners opposed to buying land to expand the Northern Landfill. It was the wrong land at the wrong time then, and it still is. But that proposal was to expand the landfill, and the idea on the table is really found in the subhead on the Friday front-page story: Parts of this property could be used for other purposes.

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That’s what I was thinking when I first got word that Jack Lyburn, director of economic development, made the proposal before the Board of Carroll County Commissioners.

My first question then – and remains – why was the purchase recommendation made by Lyburn, whose job is to convince new business and industry to locate in the county, and to grow business. Landfills fall under a different department, or should.

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Several paragraphs later in the Friday story, Commissioner Stephen Wantz put it in words: He said it’s important to specify the planned use of the property.

My guess is it won’t be primarily for expanding the landfill, because that ship sailed a long time ago, a big reason why I voted against the purchase the first time around.

It is past time to be thinking about increasing landfill space, because the environmental rules that have been put in place by federal and state agencies won’t allow anything to run off and pollute the Chesapeake Bay. Since every drip of water that runs off the surfaces of the eastern slopes of Parr’s Ridge goes into the bay, it makes it tough to get permits for landfills.

New paradigms are in order; they were in order 15 years ago, but the populace was not ready to accept the vision of those of us who were looking past landfills and hauling our refuse, even recyclables, to other states. We could see the day coming when residents of West Virginia and Pennsylvania and others would tell their elected officials that they did not want garbage from Maryland polluting their groundwater, either. And we were already out of viable land for landfills.

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New technologies in thermal conversion of waste to electrical energy – some already successfully employed along with recycling and reuse in Europe, were unacceptable to American environmentalists, who cut their ideological teeth on anti-incinerator rallies and protests in the ’70s.

The average citizen just wanted to toss the trash and have it hauled away; work it out, but don’t raise my fees or I’ll drop the trash on some back road. Add to the problem the fact that county residents were split among eight incorporated towns and sprawling in developments across the country lanes and served by more than a dozen independent trash haulers, who had little interest in cooperating either with each other or county government to make needed changes.

There was and is little point in buying 300-plus acres of land to expand a landfill that is not likely to get permits approved. There was some talk of changing some of the existing land uses, rearranging transfer facilities and so on, but the fact is that the primary purpose of the existing landfill will be to continue serving as a transfer station to load up refuse for shipment to other states for as long as possible, putting off the inevitable day when we will be forced to use up what little space remains, without a viable alternative.

By then, I’m pretty sure Mr. Lyburn and others in the business and development communities will have already installed a few more rental spaces in strip malls and “business parks” and set aside zoning changes that will be like money in the bank.

Dean Minnich is a retired journalist and served two terms as a county commissioner. He writes from Westminster.

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