James Jett, owner of the burning Granite stump dump, asked a court's permission to resume business yesterday, but an angry judge halted the hearing when he learned that Mr. Jett has moved mulch and firewood on and off the site, despite an injunction forbidding him to do so.
Baltimore County Circuit Judge James T. Smith Jr. was clearly angered when a fire official, testifying at the end of a daylong hearing, said that Mr. Jett's equipment has deposited and removed mulch and firewood from large, three-sided concrete bins in the midst of the dump several times since August.
H. Emslie Parks, county attorney, admitted that he had been unaware of Battalion Chief George M. Folio's evidence until shortly before the chief testified. Chief Folio has been overseeing the Granite operation since August.
The dump, in the 8700 block of Dogwood Road, is a repository for thousands of tree stumps from construction sites. It has been burning since Feb. 2, 1991.
At the county's request, Judge Smith early this year issued an injunction ordering Mr. Jett to stop grinding stumps into mulch because the material is a fire hazard. He also ordered Mr. Jett's dump business closed until the fire is out.
"What the heck are we here fighting about?" an exasperated Judge Smith asked yesterday after hearing Chief Folio's testimony. "He [Mr. Jett] is already doing that which he is requesting. . . . I feel like some kind of a clown up here."
The judge demanded that the county explain how allowing Mr. Jett to resume some part of his business would create a fire hazard if he has already been doing it under the county's eye. He also asked Michael Tanczyn, Mr. Jett's attorney, how he could trust his client to abide by any court order.
The hearing is to resume Nov. 18.
The stump-dump fire has created a pall of odorous smoke that has enraged neighbors and at times has spread miles away. The flames have dug deep into the 100-foot high piles of debris, despite repeated attempts to extinguish them.
The Maryland Environmental Service began working at the site in August, burying what's left of the fire with tons of earth in an attempt to smother it. The county has budgeted $1.6 million for the cleanup, of which $478,000 has been spent so far.
Mr. Jett, who has been fighting attempts to stop him from accepting new stumps since 1984, was in court yesterday seeking an end to the injunction against his stump grinding.
Even if Judge Smith were to remove the injunction, Mr. Parks said, Mr. Jett would have to get a permit from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources under a new waste-wood recycling law that took effect statewide on July 1. County officials denied Mr. Jett's request for a local operating permit, but the case is awaiting a ruling by the County Board of Appeals.
The county also filed suit against Mr. Jett two weeks ago, seeking $9 million in damages.
George Perdikakis, director of Maryland Environmental Service, testified that it will take until the end of the month to finish covering the burning stumps with up to 6 feet of dirt. The fire will continue to burn underneath, he said, and it will take months of monitoring and filling in holes to keep the air out and eventually smother the blaze.