Years of complaints over Patapsco dump ignored, officials told


About 100 people crammed into the Granite Presbyterian Church last night to tell Baltimore County officials why the operator of a burning stump dump should be put out of business.

Neighbors said that a decade of their concerns about truck traffic and water pollution should have been sufficient to force James F. Jett to close his Patapsco Valley Tree Farm, which includes a 4-acre mountain of stumps that has been burning for more than a week.

The meeting of the Greater Patapsco Community Association had to be moved from a basement room to the church's main hall to accommodate the crowd.

Those at the session said they felt frustrated because they have been warning authorities of the danger of a fire at the site for years -- and now their tax dollars will have to pay to combat it and clean up in its aftermath.

The fire is costing the county about $10,000 a day to fight, officials said.

"Do you understand the sense of injustice that these people feel when this man has enriched himself at their expense and they're going to have to pay for this cleanup?" said Kathleen Skullney, a member of the Greater Patapsco Community Association and a past president.

Most also came to hear a first-hand report on what was being done to combat the persistent, smoldering stump fire that has filled their community with smoke.

"When I go outside, I'm choking," said Myrtle Sauder, whose home in the 8600 section of Dogwood Road is a five-minute walk from the fire.

She said that for the past week, her home and belongings have been covered with smoke. Each day, her husband must sweep the soot from his car windshield before driving it.

County officials promised to continue to monitor the air and the water that flow from the site, with a particular focus on Brices Run, a sensitive stream that runs through the area.

County officials said that to continue operating, Mr. Jett will be required to correct fire code deficiencies found in an inspection last October.

As the result of an October 1989 law, he also must obtain a wood debris landfill permit that could require posting a bond of up to $11.3 million, said Eugene G. Siewierski, director of the waste management division of the county Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management.

Mr. Siewierski said that Mr. Jett had applied for the permit and that, as part of the review of his application, county crews had been preparing to survey the site this winter to determine the amount of debris being stored.

However, the fire prevented that inspection.

"We're digging into these things. We're doing everything we can to find out what's been going on," said James McKinney, an aide to County Executive Roger B. Hayden, told last night's gathering.

And Battalion Chief Thomas Bowling of the county Fire Department said Richard McCann, who operates a fire suppression firm in Nixa, Mo., would begin applying a chemical foam this afternoon to extinguish the blaze.

If it works as expected, the stump fire could be put out in about 10 days, he said.

But firefighters in Kansas City, Mo., where the foam was used at a similar stump landfill fire last fall, say it helped suppress the fire but did not put it out completely.

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