The Maryland Court of Special Appeals has ruled in favor of a Carroll citizens coalition, upholding a county zoning decision denying the use of a controversial sludge storage facility on a farm in Taneytown.
The court also ruled in an opinion filed Thursday that the facility would not qualify for a zoning exception, or conditional use, because of a county ordinance restricting storage of sludge to sewage treatment plant sites.
The ordinance was enacted Oct. 30, 1990, after the 13,500-ton capacity facility already was built on the Robert C. Neal farm off Bear Run Road.
The decision represents a major victory for the Concerned Citizens for the Protection of Land, Water and Wildlife, the group that opposed the storage facility, constructed in 1988 without a building permit or zoning approval.
Once nearby residents discovered the pit with asphalt floor and concrete walls -- approximately the size of a football field and 8 feet deep -- they protested vehemently, urging the county commissioners to ban use of the facility until the issue could be reviewed. The zoning office issued a stop-work order inMarch 1989, forcing the Baltimore-area sludge disposal company that built the pit to apply for a zoning certificate.
Residents expressed concerns that storing sludge in the expansive facility would produce odors, cause land and water contamination through leakage, lower property values and create dangerous truck traffic on rural roads.
Taneytown residents Gary and Gwenn Bockelmann, leaders of the coalition which has battled Enviro-Gro Technologies Inc. through the CarrollBoard of Zoning Appeals to the courts, said they would reserve comment on the decision and any possible future actions until discussing the matter with members.
"The pit is not being used; that was our objective," said Westminster attorney Mike Preston, who represented the citizens group. "(But) it's not over until it's over."
Enviro-Gro, the sludge disposal firm, can appeal the case to the Maryland Court of Appeals, the highest state court, or ask the special appeals court to reconsider it. Enviro-Gro attorney Warren Rich hadn't received the decision as of Friday and declined comment.
The state court ruled the zoning board was justified in determining sludge storage on the farm did not fulfill an agricultural purpose, the argument put forward by County Attorney Charles W. "Chuck" Thompson Jr.
Rather, the pit was part of the sewage-disposal system, linking municipal sewage treatment plants to land where sludge can be applied, the board ruled.
"The BZA's finding that the storage pit was not incident to anagricultural practice was supported by substantial evidence," the state court opinion said.
Enviro-Gro argued that the facility shouldhave been permitted under a zoning ordinance provision allowing the storage of fertilizer in the agricultural district.
Sludge, the solid byproduct of sewage-treatment plants, commonly is spread on land as a substitute for chemical fertilizers.
Enviro-Gro and Neal appealed the zoning board's ruling to Carroll Circuit Court. Because of scheduling conflicts, the case was heard in Anne Arundel Circuit Court. While agreeing that the storage of sludge was not a permitted nor an accessory use in Carroll's agricultural district, the Circuit Courtremanded the case to the zoning board for more thorough consideration. Enviro-Gro appealed to the state court when the county passed its sludge ordinance.