Trash crisis vs. cooperation


Will the Baltimore region wage "trash wars" in the 1990s?

This is a serious question. Over the past years, several suburban counties have adopted policies to bar the import of solid waste from outside their own boundaries. The city is now retaliating. "We need to do likewise," says City Council President Mary Pat Clarke. She has introduced legislation that would block disposal at the Quarantine landfill of trash, ash and other solid waste originating outside the city.

The city and the counties are driven by the same motives. Landfills everywhere are quickly reaching their capacities and nobody seems to want new ones in their area.

The Quarantine landfill is a good illustration. The city is about to dig a final hole costing $8 million there. Once that is full by the year 2001, "we have no local alternatives for trash and ash disposal," Ms. Clarke says.

The approaching solid waste crisis ought to trigger coordinated planning and action by the metropolitan jurisdictions. Luckily, a new cooperative organization is about to come into being that is eminently suitable to lead that effort.

After 28 years of operation under various names -- the longest as the Regional Planning Council -- the state-financed Baltimore Regional Council of Governments will cease operations June 30. Many of its duties will be taken over by the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, a new private, non-profit organization that will be directed by the mayor of Baltimore and the executives of Anne Arundel, Harford, Howard, Carroll and Baltimore counties.

When the Baltimore Metropolitan Council opens shop June 1 -- to allow some overlap with the old council -- it should designate waste management coordination as an urgent priority. Aside from landfills, the future use of incinerators and coordinated recycling efforts also should be studied.

During the past three decades, regionalism has often fared quite badly in the Baltimore area. Yet the fact remains that rather than being isolated entities, the metropolitan jurisdictions are dependent on one another.

A success -- or disaster -- in one is going to affect the others. For that reason alone, intensified regional cooperation makes sense. This is particularly true in tough economic times when meager resources ought to be pooled.

The Baltimore Regional Council of Governments failed because it did not enjoy the support of top governmental executives. It is encouraging that those same executives came to the conclusion that a smaller, more tightly focused successor group was needed. The worth of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council depends on the importance given to the group's work by the region's political leaders.

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