Residents near the toxin-leaking Alpha Ridge Landfill in Marriottsville reacted angrily last night when told they would have to pay thousands of dollars for public water service.
"If you screwed it up, you've got to pay for it. If you want good will, you pay for it," said Al Starr, who lives off Route 99 near the northwest corner of the 590-acre landfill.
"We didn't cause the problem any more than any other county resident," said L. Scott Muller, another landfill activist. "We put our trash out."
"I'm looking at $14,000 or $15,000 to hook up to the county water, and I had perfectly good water."
The northwest corner of the landfill is where monitoring wells have produced ground water laced with toxic solvents believed to cause cancer.
Although none of those toxins have showed up in tests of selected residential wells, none of the 40 Marriottsville residents at last night's county Public Works Board meeting seemed reassured.
They told board members and county officials that they wanted public water to prevent even the chance their water could be tainted but did not deserve to pay for it.
"You've already put the fear of God into the family, and you don't even know whether to drink the water or not," said Sam Gallina, a retiree who lives on Sand Hill Road.
Initially, residents would pay $2,000 for public water hook-ups, then would be charged a "front foot" charge of $1.06 a year for every foot that the water main runs along the front of their property. Residents without frontage would be charged based on a 20-foot frontage.
But residents, most of whom live on lots of three acres or more, would also have to pay a private contractor to install a pipe to run the water from their property line to their house. For 1,000 feet of pipe, that could amount to about $10,000, said Donald L. Gill, a Marriotsville resident and landfill activist.
Board member Alan Kurland, saying he was playing devil's advocate, asked residents, "if you're living on Route 32 [away from the landfill], then why should you pay for water for people up at Alpha Ridge?"
"Because you put your garbage there!" Mr. Starr shot back.
Board members voted unanimously to recommend inclusion of the area around the landfill in the county's Metropolitan District, which would bring public water to the area at a cost of just under $7 million. They also agreed to include in the recommendation to the County Council, which must approve the inclusion, residents' concerns about the fairness of hookup charges.
County officials have said that under current policy, if a home's water is shown to be contaminated, the county will negotiate settlements with individual property owners.
The county has already provided water treatment systems for several homes near the closed New Cut Road Landfill in Ellicott City where well water was contaminated.
In the case of Alpha Ridge, although no residential wells were found to be contaminated, County Executive Charles I. Ecker proposed a public water system as a precaution.
Benjamin Williams, who lives on the east side of the landfill, said the only way to be sure that the water is safe would be to test it around the clock.
"At any moment, because it's in that ground, it could be contaminated," he said. "We cannot afford to wait for that moment in time when we get sick."
Other residents said the county Health Department's residential well tests have fallen far short of promises made when the landfill was proposed in the late 1970s.
"They promised to check our wells periodically, and my well's only been checked once, in all those 15 years," said Marriottsville resident Ellen Rhudy.