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Is BFI Transfer Station the Answer?


Developer Arnold Sagner makes no bones about his opposition to a Browning-Ferris Industries trash transfer station on Route 1 in Elkridge. Such a facility, he believes, would ruin his plans to develop an industrial park on land adjacent to the BFI site. He could be right about that, as well as the idea that hurting his plans affects industrial development in Howard County as a whole.

Mr. Sagner also contends that if the county allows BFI to control

the lucrative business of shipping local trash outside the state, the county stands to lose millions of dollars in potential revenue. An alternative, he says, would be for the county to build its own transfer station, lease it to an operator and pocket most of the proceeds.

The extent of the profits are unclear. Mr. Sagner claims $28 million annually, while county officials question his calculation of tipping fees, as well as the county's costs for dumping in another jurisdiction's landfill. BFI owns the Virginia landfill that would receive Howard County trash through its transfer station.

A much larger issue that Mr. Sagner does not address is whether the county would even want to own a transfer station that would operate indefinitely, accepting trash from the entire region. That issue raises questions about whether government should be in the role of turning a profit, the morality of dumping one's trash on another community as well as the liability associated with that dumping. It also flies in the face of the trend toward privatization of many government services. So far, county officials have steered away from any idea that the county has an ownership role in trash transfer.

The BFI facility, which officials say they would contract with only temporarily until a regional incinerator can be built, has the appearance of a quick fix for a complex problem. Because of contamination at three county landfills, elected officials are under enormous pressure to find a safe place to dispose of Howard's solid waste. In doing so, they shouldn't rush headlong into a position they may come to regret.

Now that the Zoning Board is considering BFI's proposal, it is time to take a critical look at the issues raised by Mr. Sagner so that the public is fully informed about how important this issue is and the enormous stakes involved.

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