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Our View: Carroll County should’ve tried other options before closing Northern Landfill

We support most of the steps taken by county and state government in an effort to keep citizens safe during the coronavirus crisis. Taking drastic measures such as closing schools and “nonessential” businesses and imposing a stay-at-home directive are, unfortunately, a necessary response in the effort to mitigate the spread.

However, we think there were alternatives to closing the Northern Landfill in Westminster to residential haulers for two weeks, as the county commissioners voted to do — three in favor, two against — on Thursday. The planned reopening date is April 27.

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Clearly, at a time when many are stuck inside, undertaking home-improvement projects and cleaning out attics and garages, and municipalities like Westminster have stopped collecting bulk trash, the landfill — already used by many as their primary method of waste disposal — was getting a lot of use.

On March 21, 631 paying customers drove across the scales at Northern Landfill to drop off trash. The county issued a news release March 27 asking residents to limit outings to the landfill to essential trips, recommending credit cards for payment. Then, the commissioners voted March 31 to close Hoods Mill Landfill in Woodbine and mandate that only credit cards or checks be accepted at Northern Landfill and, again, urged residents and businesses to hold off on nonessential trips. But none of that slowed the steady stream of trucks into the landfill.

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Jeff Castonguay, director of Public Works, told the commissioners Thursday that on April 4 and April 7 about 600 people went over the scales to drop off trash each day. At times, the lines have been quite lengthy, creating a dangerous situation by winding all the way back onto Md. 140. County officials also didn’t like the risk of exposing county staff to community members.

Carroll isn’t the only county to close landfills amid the coronavirus crisis. Facilities being closed in Baltimore and Frederick counties contributed to the crowds at Northern Landfill. Another big part of the problem is that, because of the layout of the facility, those bringing yard waste and recycling who don’t need to go over scales or interact with staff still get stuck in lines. The access issue should’ve been addressed long ago.

In terms of lessening lines, ideas such as raising fees temporarily, only allowing vehicles to come in on certain days of the week based on license plate number, and checking IDs to ensure only Carroll residents enter could’ve helped. Also, someone could’ve been charged with counting cars coming in and leaving, and closing the gate when a maximum number was reached, similar to what retail stores have to do. Plenty of businesses have had to begin scheduling specific times for customers, another option.

In terms of keeping staff members safe, we’re not sure why there has to be any contact. We live in an era when technology eliminates the need for anyone to handle transactions. By allowing only credit card payments and putting up a card reader on a movable arm or platform for vehicles entering the scales, giving only the option of no receipt or emailed receipts, the need for anyone to physically collect fees would be eliminated.

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It was suggested Thursday that people have used dumping their garbage as a chance to socialize with others doing the same. This could be avoided by only letting an approved number of vehicles past the scales at one time and setting up barriers to keep the handful of vehicles dumping garbage at once separated.

Commissioners Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, and Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, voted in opposition. They both said closing the landfill could lead to illegal dumping, which Castonguay conceded has happened recently. We’re afraid they might be right and wish the county had tried other measures before closing the landfill.

Businesses have had to come up with creative solutions to keep operating during the crisis and government should be doing the same. We urge the county to spend the next two weeks considering all combinations of options and implementing changes, potentially including to how traffic flows through the facility. If nothing changes, the problem will only be worse April 27, after two weeks of garbage has piled up.

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