Howard officials have denied allegations in a civil suit filed by a couple who contend that contamination at the county's Alpha Ridge Landfill has destroyed the value of their land.
But County Executive Charles I Ecker acknowledges that he's concerned that the case -- the first of its kind in the county -- will prompt other property owners near three contaminated Howard landfills to go to court.
Clyde and Shirley Pendleton filed a suit in Howard Circuit Court in October, asking the court to award them more than $2.6 million in damages for the diminished value of 156 acres they own next to the county landfill in Marriottsville .
"I guess it depends on the outcome of the [Pendleton] suit," Mr. Ecker said. "There may be a liability there, but I don't believe there is."
The county expects to have a consultant's plan outlining steps for correcting the contamination problem at Alpha Ridge early next year, Mr. Ecker said.
County officials also plan to bring public water lines to the Marriottsville area to ease concerns among residents that the landfill may be contaminating private water supplies, Mr. Ecker said.
He noted that tests showed contamination is limited to the landfill site.
In a response to the suit filed on Nov. 24, the county asks the court to dismiss the case. The response denies the Pendletons' allegations that operations at Alpha Ridge have caused irreparable damage to the property.
But the Pendletons contend that the landfill has contaminated the ground water and polluted the atmosphere, rendering their land unfit to develop for residential, commercial or industrial uses.
"None of this is in any way designed to bring embarrassment to the county," said Lewis Nippard, an Ellicott City attorney for the Pendletons. "We had to file this suit . . . in order to protect our rights."
The Pendletons share ownership of the land with Mr. Pendleton's half-brother, Marion Harless of West Friendship.
The couple lives in the 12900 block of Frederick Road in West Friendship.
The property -- west of the landfill, off Sand Hill Road -- is used for farming, although no one lives at the site.
Mr. Ecker said the county considered buying the Pendleton property to expand Alpha Ridge several years ago, but dropped the plan after citizens voiced opposition to the proposed expansion.
Meanwhile, the Pendletons did not pursue any plans to develop their property while waiting for the county to appropriate money to buy the land, Mr. Nippard said.
In a letter to County Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, Mr. Nippard asked Howard officials to consider the Pendletons' situation when it addresses emergency legislation for another county landfill in Woodbine.
"It is our opinion that the problems engendered by Howard County landfills should be dealt with in a comprehensive manner and that any consideration by the County Council of appropriation requests should take into account the damages inflicted upon the property of [the Pendletons]," Mr. Nippard said.
The proposed legislation, which would go into effect immediately if approved, would provide $1 million to pay to clean up the 30-acre Woodbine dump, known as the Carrs Mill Landfill. The council is expected to consider the proposal later this month.
Alpha Ridge, which has operated on a total of 590 acres off Interstate 70 and Marriottsville Road since 1980, accepts garbage from around the county. The refuse is buried to within five feet of the water table.
In 1990, toxic solvents were discovered in shallow monitoring wells at the landfill site. In September 1992, test results from a deep well next to the clay-lined landfill cell showed that toxic solvents have seeped into bedrock below the landfill.
Solvents normally used for grease-cutting, dry cleaning or paint removal -- several of them suspected to cause cancer -- were found in bedrock at levels many times higher than federal drinking water standards.
Mr. Nippard said he expects the county to conduct tests on the Pendleton property to determine the level of any contamination. He added that private tests are likely.
Drums, some empty and other full of toxic solvents, have been discovered at the county's two closed dumps, the Carrs Mill Landfill and the New Cut Road Landfill in Ellicott City.
Only a few residential wells near the New Cut site were found to be contaminated. The county has put infiltration systems on the wells, although it has not admitted liability.
The Pendletons want a jury trial for their suit.
The case has been assigned to Judge Cornelius Sybert Jr., but no proceedings have been scheduled yet.