Executives of Browning-Ferris Industries have every reason to raise their glasses in a toast this week.
But the Howard County Zoning Board's decision Monday to allow the company to develop a waste-transfer station in Elkridge is no cause for celebration elsewhere in the county -- or elsewhere in the Baltimore region.
The ruling, which allows BFI to proceed with construction of the waste-transfer facility, underscores the unfortunate situation in which Howard County finds itself. With its landfills leaking contaminates and no long-term alternative for solid waste disposal in sight, the BFI transfer station, which will prepare trash loads to be trucked out of state, represents an expedient stop-gap measure. It also has great potential for generating serious regrets in years to come.
The plan for Howard is to utilize the transfer station until an incinerator is up and running somewhere in the Baltimore region. Such an incinerator has been a long time on the drawing board and could be years in the offing.
In the meantime, Howard County has embarked on a risky endeavor. With BFI trucking county waste out of state, local officials gain some temporary relief from the pressure to do something about its long-term solid waste dilemma.
But that relief could prove a double-edged sword if it becomes an excuse to delay finding a more permanent solution. Worst of pTC all would be the possibility that the BFI transfer station becomes the lone, permanent strategy for disposing of waste in Howard County. That would be unconscionable, though the temptation will be great once a transfer station exists.
For the county to have its trash dumped in another state may solve the problem of continued contamination at home. But it raises serious legal and moral questions about what Howard County is doing elsewhere. The right legal challenge could expose the county to ghastly liability. Morality, of course, depends on conscience, which is not in abundant supply during election years.
Admittedly, the pressure to come up with even an imperfect solution to Howard County's trash problem outweighed other concerns, including those expressed by residents near the transfer station site who fear traffic, litter and noise problems. Now that BFI is on track, county officials can't be allowed to forget the pitfalls that their Band-Aid approach to this problem has created.