Residents living near the Alpha Ridge Landfill in rural Marriottsville could receive county water as a safety precaution within 18 months, Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker said this week.
Toxic contaminants have been discovered in test wells at the Marriottsville landfill but have not shown up in nearby residential wells. Mr. Ecker has included $100,000 in his proposed operating budget to test and monitor residents' wells.
"At least he's trying to give us some help," said J. Gordon Warfield, a Sand Hill Road resident who lives close to the landfill.
"It's an honest try on Mr. Ecker's part," said Mr. Warfield's wife, Maxine. "We shall see how it proceeds."
Mr. Ecker said he hopes to draft legislation and bring it before the Planning Board in June. He estimates that it will take 18 months to amend the county's water and sewer master plan, its 1993 General Plan and other documents necessary to bring water and sewer service to the area.
"I think we're going to have to do this sooner or later," Mr. Ecker said, "and we ought to start going through all those hoops now. We ought to start the clock running now."
County Councilman Darrel Drown, R-2nd, agrees. "To me, it looks like a long-range solution -- the only long-range solution," he said. "In order to allay the fears of residents, I can't see any other way around it."
A newsletter showing a preliminary map of the proposed water and sewer service area will be sent to residents today, Mr. Ecker said. He said the area would be bordered by Route 144 to the south, and would extend west of Sand Hill Road and north of Route 99.
Mr. Ecker said he wants to set up a meeting with Marriottsville residents and Joseph W. Rutter Jr., county planning and zoning director, to talk about zoning concerns. The area is now zoned for rural use -- one house per 3 acres -- and rural residents often oppose bringing water and sewer service to their neighborhoods because they believe it will lead to increased development.
Mr. Ecker said he wants to bring water to the area for safety reasons only.
"This is not for the purpose of increasing density," he said.
Mr. Ecker said he will not attempt to impose his will on the community. The meeting with Mr. Rutter will allow residents to voice their concerns, he said, including the possibility that some residents want to increase density.
"I am not fearful that [increased development] could happen," said Councilman Paul R. Farragut, D-4th. "My concern is public health. And from a public health standpoint, this sounds like a good idea. It certainly makes sense to plan for it."
"We fought the landfill [when it was first proposed] and I helped lead that fight," said Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, the County Council member representing the affected residents. "It should have been put in the metropolitan [water and sewer] district to begin with."
County Public Works Director James M. Irvin said his staff is preparing a computer model of what it would cost to bring water and sewer service to the area.
"There's going to be a debate about how much of an area should be included," he said. "We have to know how big it's going to be, how many fire hydrants we're going to have to put in."
Mr. Irvin said the county would have to build a pump station to bring water to the area. Pressed as to costs, he said the total project could range from "hundreds of thousands of dollars to a million."
Donald L. Gill, a University of Maryland biological chemistry professor and resident who lives near the landfill, said that bringing public water to two new schools by the landfill and the "most threatened" nearby houses is "the most important issue" the county needs to address concerning the landfill.
Mr. Gill started calling public attention to potential problems at the landfill a year ago when he and nearby resident L. Scott Muller waged a successful battle to keep the county from expanding its Alpha Ridge operation onto adjoining property.
Mr. Gill has closely followed the county's monitoring of test wells at Alpha Ridge. He became especially concerned in February when he learned from county officials that high levels of toxic chemicals were discovered deep in the ground water below the landfill. Several of the chemicals are suspected of causing cancer. They were found in bedrock at levels many times higher than federal standards allow.
Since that discovery, Mr. Gill and Mr. Muller have been attempting to convince Mr. Ecker and the County Council to close Alpha Ridge and find other means of trash disposal than a landfill.
Following a meeting with Mr. Gill and Mr. Muller last week, Mr. Ecker decided to establish an Alpha Ridge Landfill Advisory Committee that will include the two men as members.
The purpose of the watchdog committee, Mr. Ecker said, is to provide up-to-date information to the community. All test results will be forwarded to the committee immediately, he said.