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Minnich: Carroll County kicked ‘trash plan can’ down the road years ago, still looking for solution

Trash is expensive. One way or another. Tossing garbage into a community hole was not something that could be done on the cheap forever.

“Carroll faces new $840,000 hole in solid waste fund,” Page One, Carroll County Times, Monday, May 18.

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This is coming out as the county commissioners are trying to wrap up the proposed budget for fiscal year 2021. At this late moment, word is that the plan to pay $1.3 million is not going to cover the costs of recycling.

 Like every family and every business, the bills keep growing; the real cost will be closer to $2.18 million.

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Commissioner Stephen Wantz responded with the most common phrase used by elected officials at budget time: “I don’t know where we’re going to get that from.”

Been there, done that. From 2002 to 2010, it was my job as one of three commissioners to figure out how to get more for less. But we didn’t have a pandemic to work around.

We had a more mundane crisis sneaking up on us: A clash between the costs of saving the air and water, and the rights and prosperity of citizens. Beginning in earnest in the early ‘70s, the idea of preserving clean air and water became both a moral and political issue, and a factor in the so-called cultural divide in America.

People want to put their trash at the curb and forget it. They take it for granted that someone will make it disappear. Most people would prefer not to have to pay anything, but are willing to budget a reasonable cost for convenience.

It’s generally accepted that we can no longer do what we did 60 years ago, when every back yard had a steel drum or trash pit where paper and other flammables carried the particles toward Heaven.

At some point, some people will toss their trash from a moving car rather than pay to have it disappear.

Between 2006 and 2010, one of the most controversial proposals of our board was to seriously plan for an alternative to the status quo. We faced state and federal rules for operating local landfills and improving efforts at recycling an increasingly complicated variety of disposable consumer products and packaging at a price we could afford.

Local governments were given mandates that could not be met and found themselves facing threats of sanctions from state and federal bureaucrats. We were required to have landfills, but prohibited from siting them near any streams. Try that in Carroll County.

Treatment plants replaced the personal septic system in the sprawling neighborhoods, but temperatures of effluent into streams were geared to protect the fish. Hearings, permitting, legal issues, costs — the old idea of tossing the trash became the biggest nightmare for public administrators.

One of the ideas we put on the table was to anticipate that recycling plastic soda bottles into fleece workout suits was not a long-term solution to the ever-changing economics and government regulations and mandates. We were looking at something that had been working well in progressive European countries.

They were turning their trash into electricity. using the latest technology to virtually eliminate emissions while sending electrical power into the grid.

The idea is to save enough on electrical expenses to get a return on the investment of building the facilities. We had negotiated with Frederick County to partner in a regional waste-to-energy plant, sent engineers and staff to visit plants using the technology in France, Germany, and other nations. Did the homework.

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But it didn’t sell with the locals.

Some who had mounted campaigns for changing old practices by government mandates to eliminate all burning and dumping could not get past the paradigm that there would be an “incinerator” that pollutes the air and streams and the bay and the ocean.

Conservatives resisted on principle: Government should stay out of it and let people figure out for themselves what they wanted to do with their trash.

Without support, the trash plan can was kicked down the road.

Dean Minnich served two terms as county commissioner after retiring from a career in news writing and management. Send emails to dminnichwestm@gmail.com.

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