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The fate of a controversial sludge storage facility built on a farm near Taneytown will be decided by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, which heard arguments from lawyers representing three parties to the case yesterday.

The concrete facility -- which has a 13,500-ton capacity and is about the size of a football field -- is the focal point of a tangled disagreement that has become more convoluted sinceit reached the courts last year.

Lawyers representing Enviro-Gro Technologies Inc., a Baltimore waste disposal company that built the structure, county government and a citizens group formed to protest the pit made pitches to three appeals court judges.

The judges will issue an opinion that could determine whether Enviro-Gro -- and Taneytown-area farmer Robert Neal -- will be able to use the pit to store sludge. One option is to uphold a lower court's decision to remand the case to the Carroll Board of Zoning Appeals for more thorough review.

The judges do not have a deadline for issuing their opinion.

An Anne Arundel Circuit judge ruled last June that the Carroll Board of Zoning Appeals decided arbitrarily that the facility is not a "conditional use," or an exception,under the county's agricultural district zoning laws. The judge affirmed the board's ruling that the pit is not an accessory use to agriculture because storage facilities that size are not found "customarily" on farms.

The case was heard in Anne Arundel Circuit Court because ofscheduling problems in Carroll Circuit Court.

Attorneys for Enviro-Gro appealed the Circuit Court decision to the Court of Special Appeals after the county passed an ordinance that would prohibit sludge storage facilities in Carroll except at publicly owned sewage treatment plants.

An attorney for Concerned Citizens for the Protection of Land, Water and Wildlife is petitioning the court to bar Enviro-Gro's attorneys from seeking conditional use approval. The waste management company forfeited its right to challenge that aspect of the BZA's decision when it withdrew an initial appeal, attorney Charles "Mike" Preston said.

Enviro-Gro built the facility in 1989 without obtaining a building permit or a zoning certificate. Attorneys representing the company and Neal have argued that the storage of sludge --commonly used as a substitute for fertilizer on crops -- is a permitted use in the agricultural district and should not require zoning approval.

Sludge is the treated byproduct of sewage treatment plants. It is stored when the ground is too wet or too cold to spread it.

The sludge that would be stored on the Neal farm off Bear Run Road would be spread only on his property.

Nearby residents, fearing that storing sludge could cause land and water contamination, odors andproperty devaluation, complained to county officials, who issued a zoning violation notice. Enviro-Gro appealed the order to the zoning board, which ruled that the facility "does have serious adverse effects in the neighborhood" and should not be allowed.

Enviro-Gro attorney Warren K. Rich stressed that Carroll's zoning plan shows a strongpreference for agriculture and that storage of sludge for spreading on fields directly supports Neal's farming operation. The facility should be a permitted use, he argued.

He cited a section of the county zoning ordinance which says that agricultural land uses and structures incidental to those uses shall not be prohibited.

Preston andCounty Attorney Charles W. "Chuck" Thompson Jr. argued that the Nealstorage facility is an anomaly. Farmers more commonly store manure generated on their farms in small facilities, they said. The zoning ordinance should not be interpreted to include facilities constructed to assist the handling of waste from sewage treatment plants, they argued.

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