Dump expansion probed Citizen's report questions Spencer's size

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The county is investigating whether an Abingdon rubble fill was expanded without county and state approval.

The probe of Spencer Sand & Gravel Inc., which could become Harford's largest private dump if the state approves an expansion request, began after an Abingdon resident sent Harford administrators a report she wrote 10 days ago.

The report, given to county administrators May 21 by Jan Stinchcomb, details inconsistencies she found in state and county documents and maps regarding the size of the rubble fill.

The operation has been a source of debate among county administrators and some Abingdon residents since the company began seeking state approval to expand the dump.

"It appears from the documents that there has been an expansion beyond what has been permitted," Deputy County Attorney Jefferson Blomquist said of Stinchcomb's report.

"There appears to be some question as to whether they [the rubble operators] really operated in good faith."

Bill Geary, a Spencer spokesman, said Friday he has not read Stinchcomb's report. But he said the company is eager to see it and discuss it with county administrators.

Health Officer Thomas M. Thomas said either the county or the state Department of the Environment should send surveyors to the Spencer site to determine the size of the rubble fill.

Geary said that if anyone conducts a survey of the site, it should be the state, which is the permitting authority.

Spencer is seeking the state permit to expand its rubble fill by 18 acres. The state environment department is reviewing the request. A public hearing will be scheduled on the proposal before a decision is made, the state said.

If the state grants the permit, Spencer would become the largest private landfill in the county.

But Thomas questions whether the permit Spencer is seeking now is to cover land that has already been filled in with rubble at the site.

"I can't figure out what area is landfill, what area is sand and gravel [operations], and what area is not," Thomas said. "All you can get is totally confused."

Geary conceded there is confusion about Spencer's boundaries for fill and mining areas "because there was an error in the field" in 1989. That error, he says, entailed an accidental deposit of rubble on a site not designated to receive fill, he said. County and state administrators were notified about the problem, he said.

"When we discovered the mistake we ceased depositing material there and applied for the expansion [permit]," Geary said of the request the state is now reviewing.

The company has operated the rubble dump since the late 1970s in a former sand and gravel pit.

Stinchcomb compiled the report after reviewing state and county records, aerial photographs and maps of the rubble fill during the past five months.

The report was sent to County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, the County Council and county administrators.

County officials, from the council president to the deputy county attorney, praised the report because it compiles a variety of information about the controversial site into one document.

County administrators have been stymied in reviewing Spencer operations because documents are scattered throughout numerous state and county agencies.

The inconsistencies noted in Stinchcomb's report:

* The size of the operation:

Documents filed by Spencer in 1981 as part of its first state permit application show that the rubble fill would total 38 acres -- 26.5 acres on the west side of Abingdon Road and 11.5 acres on the east side. The company said on the application that it owned a total of 51 acres at the site.

The state permit, not issued until 1987, however, says Spencer is allowed to use 51 acres on the east side and 26 acres on the west side -- 77 acres total.

When Spencer sought state approval to expand the rubble fill earlier this year, the company said it owned a total of 137 acres at the site.

But other records show that Spencer asked the state environment department to reduce its security bond in 1987 because it had 24 acres -- not 51 acres -- for the dump. Spencer was required to post $5,000 per acre on the bond.

In addition, officials at the state Department of Natural Resources have questioned the actual size of the dump since 1985, according to inspection reports.

* Capacity of the operation:

In its 1988 annual report to the state, the company said it accepted about 10,000 cubic yards of waste monthly and that the facility had reached 75 percent of its capacity, records say.

But in the 1989 annual report, Spencer said it accepted 30,000 cubic yards of waste monthly, and that the facility was 35 percent full, records say.

The Stinchcomb report also notes that the state and county have filed at least 60 complaints against the company over the past 12 years. The complaints range from inadequate coverage of waste to odors.

During some inspections, the state and county found no violations at the rubble fill, records show.

The report contains a study by Wayne Fox, a Havre de Grace geologist who volunteered his services to residents living near the Spencer operation. He has voiced concern that contamination at the dump may reach nearby private drinking wells. Most houses near the rubble fill are served by public water.

In March, state tests confirmed that two chemical compounds -- trichloroethylene and dichloroethylene -- were at levels beyond state and federal limits in two monitoring wells at the rubble fill.

With questions lingering about the contamination, citations and size of the dump, Stinchcomb said in a prepared statement that the county should consider removing the Spencer rubble fill from the solid waste management plan.

"I expect officials responsible for dealing with issues and questions pertaining to our health and welfare to not vote 'emotionally' but to do the rational and responsible thing for the public," Stinchcomb said in the statement.

County Councilwoman Theresa M. Pierno, D-District C, said the council may consider Stinchcomb's request when the county begins updating the solid waste plan later this year.

"Considering the information we have now, I think that may be a very reasonable request," Pierno said. "It's certainly one we should consider."

But Council President Jeffrey Wilson said the county may not be able to act on Stinchcomb's request. The county, he said, does not have the authority on the issue because complaints filed against Spencer are at the state level, putting the matter in the hands of the environment department.

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