County Executive Charles I. Ecker wants the county Public Works Department to evaluate property next to the Alpha Ridge landfill before looking elsewhere for a new dump site -- but not without allowing the public to debate the idea first.

The beginning of that debate is expected Tuesday night when the Planning Board has a public hearing onthe fiscal 1993 capital budget.

A year ago, Ecker's first capital budget included $285,000 for a study to evaluate the possibility of expanding Alpha Ridge or findinga site elsewhere. Since then, the owners of property between Sand Chain and Marriottsville roads have spoken with county officials about using their land to expand Alpha Ridge.

Neighbors complain that these conversations went beyond the scope of the study and that as a result, they were excluded from testifying against the proposal.

Ecker agreed. He called on the Public Works Department to end the study immediately -- no money has been spent yet -- and to amend the description of the study to say that the county will look at the adjacent property before looking countywide.

The county's problem is that even with recycling, Alpha Ridge is expected to run out of space by theyear 2000 -- 2005 if growth continues at a slowed pace.

Although the earliest closure date is still eight years away, officials estimate it will take seven years to find a site, monitor it and construct initial improvements.

The site acquisition proposal would allow the county to spend up to $12 million to acquire property -- an estimated $20,000 an acre for 600 acres -- and $350,000 to design, engineer and administer the project.

Among those opposed to the expansion of Alpha Ridge is Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th. The Alpha Ridge landfill is in his district.

"I was a major opponent to the (AlphaRidge) landfill during the original site acquisition public hearings," Feaga said. He added that he plans to make his opposition known tothe administration when the capital budget comes to the council for approval.

"There are at least two sites available in the eastern portion of the county," he said.

Feaga said this is not a territorial issue. He said he doesn't want another landfill in his district because he is afraid that leachate from the landfill could contaminate the ground water. Most property owners in Feaga's district have well and septic systems.

If the next landfill is within the metropolitan water and sewer district, residents would still have potable water if leachate contaminated the ground water, Feaga said. That would notbe true if contamination occurred in his district, however.

In 1986, the county was forced to begin implementing a leachate collectionsystem at Alpha Ridge to meet state environmental requirements. Whencompleted in fiscal 1998, the project will have cost the county $51 million. A total of $11.6 million has already been appropriated.

Those expenses may be only the beginning. The Public Works Department is asking for $550,000 in the fiscal 1993 capital budget to find out if Alpha Ridge and the county's earlier landfills at Carrs Mill Road and New Cut Road are contaminating surface or ground water near the sites.

Samples from monitoring wells indicate that some low-level contamination may be occurring at each site, according to the Public Works Department.

If the new project is approved, the county will take soil borings and construct monitoring wells near each site to determine whether it needs to take steps to correct the problem. If so, it could cost millions of dollars to put clay covers over the landfills to keep rain from penetrating them.

Public Works Director JamesM. Irvin hopes such measures won't be necessary.

"Theoretically, it could cost that much, but, hopefully, it won't," he said.

If the landfills do need to be capped, the cost would be included in the fiscal 1994 and 1995 capital budget requests.

The hearing begins at7:30 p.m. at the county office building.

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