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Decision on water hookups near Alpha Ridge delayed a month


Marriottsville residents living near the contaminated Alpha Ridge Landfill are going to have to wait another month to learn whether Howard County is giving them free hookups to public water or offering them low-cost loans to pay the connection charges.

Councilman C. Vernon Gray, an east Columbia Democrat, wants the county to foot that bill for the residents. The county wouldn't even be thinking about offering low-interest loans if it were not responsible for the Alpha Ridge contamination, Mr. Gray said.

Increasing numbers of cancer-causing contaminants are turning up in test wells at the landfill but have not shown up in nearby residential wells. Residents believe it is only a matter of time and have asked for public water.

Public Works Director James M. Irvin told the council at last night's work session that the county expects to bring water to affected residents within 18 months. Construction will begin late this year or early next year, he said.

Residents believe the county caused the problem that is threatening their well water and therefore should provide the hookups for free. The estimated cost is about $4,160 a household -- or about $1.5 million altogether -- to bring water to 350 affected properties.

It will be cheaper now to pay for the water hookups than to deal with suits 10 years from now should residential wells become contaminated, Mr. Gray told his council colleagues. "We need to stop pussyfooting around and bite the bullet. . . . If we caused the problem, we have the responsibility to clean it up. We can't wait until cancer or some dreaded disease shows up."

Council Chairman Charles C. Feaga, a West Friendship Republican, seemed to be favoring the low-cost-loan alternative but wants more time to study the issue. Mr. Feaga said he wanted clarification as to which homes are affected by the contamination.

The council is scheduled to vote on the issue Monday but can postpone that vote until late July or early September through the use of a parliamentary maneuver known as tabling.

Mr. Feaga and other council members looking at the low-cost-loan alternative see it as a necessary compromise in light of the county's worsening financial situation. Earlier last night, County Executive Charles I. Ecker and Budget Director Raymond S. Wacks gave the council a gloomy financial forecast indicating that the county will begin having what Mr. Wacks calls a "structural deficit" beginning next year.

In other words, the county is projected to spend more money than it will receive for the rest of this decade, Mr. Wacks said. But since the county is prevented by law from having an actual deficit, the county must be prepared to cut services or raise taxes, he said.

Mr. Feaga said he was looking for a compromise. His suggestion was to allow residents to amortize water connection charges over 30 years.

University of Maryland medical school biochemist Donald L. Gill, who, along with Marriottsville resident L. Scott Muller, led a successful fight to close the landfill and bring public water to affected residents, said some compromise may be necessary, given the county's financial situation.

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