Many people who live near Howard County's toxin-leaking landfill in Marriottsville made it clear to county officials last night that they want to be hooked up to the public water system. What they don't want is to have to pay for it.
"What happens if we all hook up to the water and five years down the road we find out everything underneath us is polluted?" asked John Adams, who lives northwest of the Alpha Ridge Landfill. "What do we do then? You don't have to pay for anything."
Both Joseph W. Rutter, planning and zoning director, and James M. Irvin, public works director, told some 90 residents at the meeting in Ellicott City that other officials would have to make that decision.
Under the current proposal, residents would be charged for water hookup. But if the county determined that the landfill had contaminated residents' water, officials would meet one-on-one with each resident to negotiate a settlement.
But Mr. Adams and others said they wanted the county to deal with the community as a whole.
In May, County Executive Charles I. Ecker proposed that the county provide water to the area because of the possibility that wells are contaminated. Tests on residential wells have not shown undisputed evidence of contamination, officials have said, but monitoring wells have shown toxic and possibly cancer-causing solvents in bedrock below the landfill.
Chuck Aston, who lives southeast of the landfill, suggested that the county discount hookup charges according to what residents paid to have their wells installed.
Many residents expressed frustration with Mr. Rutter's and Mr. Irvin's repeated answers that they did not make the decisions over how the water would be provided. Mr. Rutter said the meeting was held to explain the proposal to residents.
To bring water to about 320 homes in the area of the landfill, the County Council will have to approve an amendment to the 1990 General Plan, the county's 20-year blueprint for growth. The expansion is estimated to cost between $7 million and $8 million.
The Planning Board is scheduled to consider the amendment at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday. It will then make a recommendation to the council, which will hold a hearing at 8 p.m. on July 19. Both meetings will be held in the George Howard county office building.
"The way I see it, it's not right for the people that live around this landfill to get stuck with the cost of bringing water to the area," said Arthur Grace.
A field and a stand of trees separate Mr. Grace's home from the leaking 13-year-old landfill.
The burden of paying for water should be borne by all county taxpayers, because all taxpayers use the landfill, Mr. Grace said. "The reason that I want to hook up is because of our landfill. And that's everybody's responsibility."
The other concern raised by residents and a growth-control advocate was that the proposed amendment to expand the water service westward would create a legal basis to change the area's rural zoning.
Growth-control advocate Susan Gray, who is fighting a rezoning for the 682-acre Waverly Woods II project east of the landfill, said if the amendment is approved and if it can be proven that the Zoning Board had not anticipated the change, it would open the area to rezoning.
Ms. Gray said that residents "might want to look for some kind of stopgap measure" to deal with water contamination until the next General Plan and comprehensive rezoning. The process to change the General Plan and rezone the county is repeated about every seven years.
But Mr. Irvin, the public works director, said that was not the message he was getting from residents.
"One clear thing I heard from you was, 'Don't wait -- go ahead' [with the water hookups]," he said.
Donald L. Gill, who has fought to have the landfill closed, told Ms. Gray that area residents were not concerned about the amendment's effect on zoning.
But Marriottsville resident Bill Newman disputed Dr. Gill, a professor of biochemistry.
Dr. Gill then asked residents, "Is there anybody else here that's in the proposed [water] service area who is against this?"
No hands were raised.