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Va. neighbors of regional landfill to oppose waste transfer station


KING AND QUEEN COUNTY, Va. -- The trash stops here.

This county, with a median household income half that of Howard County, offers an easy solution to the problem of urban trash disposal.

The county is the home of one of Browning-Ferris Industries' newest regional landfills, a 220-acre state-of-the-art, plastic-lined facility that soon could draw trash from Howard County and other Baltimore area jurisdictions.

Tonight, however, two residents of King and Queen County are expected to testify before the Howard County Zoning Board in opposition to a waste transfer station BFI has proposed for Elkridge to collect that trash.

Their argument: The BFI project, while it may be good for Howard County, is another step in making their Virginia home a regional dumping ground.

"King and Queen is a decent county," said Nathaniel Holmes, 23, a college student who grew up near the site. "Why would I want my county to be known as a dump?"

At the proposed Elkridge facility, garbage trucks would dump their loads for compacting into 25-ton "cubes" that would be pushed into tractor-trailers for shipment to regional landfills.

The two most likely destinations, BFI representatives have said, are the King and Queen landfill and a BFI landfill in Morgantown, Pa.

The station could provide an inexpensive and politically painless step toward closing the county's own landfill in Marriottsville, which is leaking solvents that are carcinogens. It would be a temporary solution under the county's 10-year solid waste plan, or long term if BFI's marketing is successful.

Houston-based BFI's pitch was successful in King and Queen, where county officials rave about how landfill revenues funded school renovations and plans to replace the county government's mobile home with a permanent structure.

At the King and Queen Elementary School earlier this week, county school Superintendent Lloyd M. Hamlin pointed out what he considers some of the advantages of taking trash from Maryland and other areas within a 150-mile contractual limit.

Built in 1937, the school had missing window panes, had no air conditioning and was heated with a used ship's boiler until three years ago. Students read by the light of four suspended globes with 200-watt incandescent bulbs in them.

"I can't in words tell you how dismal it was," Mr. Hamlin said during a tour of the school.

Now, after a renovation completed in 1992, there are acoustic tile ceilings and fluorescent lights in every room, central air and gas heat. A new auditorium/gymnasium has left room for the library to expand. For the first time, other counties are using the building for regional summer programs.

Although the building might have been renovated anyway, the project would not have been as extensive without revenue from the landfill, officials said.

Since the contract was signed in 1990, the county has received $2.25 million in advance rent on the landfill project, with an additional $500,000 on the way this fall, according to county officials.

With the landfill operating, BFI pays rent of $3.50 per ton of trash dumped there, up to 1,000 tons a day. Above that, the rent goes up to $4.25 cents a ton.

"The landfill has already contributed the equivalent of over $400 for every man woman and child in the county," said Jeff Southard, business development manager for BFI's Southern Virginia Division.

Once the landfill is operating at its capacity of 2,500 tons per day, the county will receive about $3 million a year in rent -- close to what the county takes in each year in property taxes.

Added to that is about $80,000 in annual taxes, a yearly payroll of $700,000 and a $150,000 allowance to pay for hauling the county's own trash to the landfill, where it is dumped free. The free dumping, considering current costs of $40 to $50 a ton, is worth about $300,000 a year.

"If money were the answer," retorts the Rev. Keith Parham, "then King and Queen would not still be here, because we never had any money."

Mr. Parham, a Baptist minister and a vocal member of Residents Involved in Saving Environment Inc. (RISE), believes the steady stream of trucks and environmental damage will destroy the quiet rural character of the area forever.

"They labeled us as a small dissident group, but ask them why they didn't want to do a public referendum," said Mr. Parham, who plans to share his views with the Howard County Zoning Board tonight.

Opposition to the waste dump runs deep in the Virginia county, said Mr. Parham. In 1991, candidates for supervisor dared not speak in favor of the landfill, he said.

"A white brother in a black district was put out of office because of the landfill," said Mr. Parham.

RISE has fought the landfill from the beginning, arguing that the county government chose predominantly black areas for its previous three landfills and was continuing the practice with the county-owned BFI site.

The group lost a federal lawsuit that attempted to make that argument and then lost a state lawsuit that contended that the plan was based on road improvements for which the state couldn't pay.

Now, 18-wheelers with silver trailers hauling 20-ton loads of loose garbage can be seen on King and Queen's shoulderless two-lane roads, barreling past 4-year-old protest signs, including one that reads: "No, we will not give our county up to BFI and out of state garbage."

The Howard Zoning Board will hear its third night of testimony on BFI's rezoning petition beginning at 8 tonight in the Banneker Room of the George Howard county office building in Ellicott City.

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