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Private businesses vying to take county's trash


Anne Arundel County's garbage has become a hot commodity.

Privately held "mega-landfills" in neighboring states are competing for the county's refuse, and that might prompt officials to lower the fees charged to commercial haulers who dump at the publicly owned Millersville landfill, County Executive John G. Gary said.

Meanwhile, the county has been flooded with unsolicited offers by national companies that believe they can get rid of residents' trash more cheaply than the local government can, the executive said Thursday in an interview with The Sun.

The offers range from taking over the Millersville landfill to providing garbage-eating technology known as a "trash muncher," Mr. Gary said.

"It's amazing how this industry has emerged," Mr. Gary said. "It used to be a problem to get rid of your trash. Now there's money to be made. That's what is driving it."

Mr. Gary said he wants to hire the Northeast Waste Disposal Authority to crunch the numbers and determine which of the offers might benefit the county.

New technology and greater reliance on private companies are components of a multipronged waste-disposal plan he hopes to unveil soon, Mr. Gary said.

Under the plan, the county would hire private companies to compost up to 50 percent of residents' yard waste. The county recently entered into a partnership with Howard and Baltimore counties to run a regional composting plant in Elkridge that will handle the other 50 percent.

The Gary plan also would have the county divert trash generated in northern Anne Arundel -- roughly 60 percent of its garbage -- to an out-of-state landfill or to one of two garbage incinerators in Baltimore, Mr. Gary said. Officials from the BRESCO plant off Russell Street in Baltimore already have solicited the county's business, he said.

"They'd be happier than pigs in mud to have it," Mr. Gary said.

The offers by several large national companies, including Browning Ferris Industries and Wheelabrator, to take over the Millersville landfill and put the county out of the trash business entirely "have a lot of appeal," Mr. Gary said.

"All of these companies are coming to us, telling us they can handle our trash for less," he said.

He must weigh the offers carefully, he said, because state law specifically holds the state's 23 counties and Baltimore responsible for trash disposal. Each jurisdiction must know at all times where it will dispose of its trash for the next 10 years.

Until the new trash plan is in effect, Mr. Gary said, he wants to temporarily slash by about 30 percent the $60-a-ton tipping fee commercial haulers pay at Millersville. The goal would be to keep more of them -- and the revenues they generate -- from leaving the county. Those haulers, who collect trash from businesses and apartment complexes, historically have subsidized residential trash pickup in Anne Arundel.

For the past year, privately held landfills in Virginia, Pennsylvania and West Virginia have lured the private haulers away. Because the "mega-landfills" are larger and may not have to comply with environmental rules as strict as Maryland's, their tipping fees are half Anne Arundel's, officials said.

The commercial tonnage dumped at Millersville has dropped by 75 percent in the past 18 months, said James Pittman, chief of Anne Arundel's Waste Management Bureau.

"The private sector has found a way to make a profit off the business, and they are basically stealing it away from us," Mr. Gary said.

If the commercial haulers continue to leave, the county will face a $4 million deficit in its self-supporting Solid Waste Enterprise Fund, despite a recent increase in fees charged to households receiving curbside pickup, Mr. Gary said.

The County Council approved a $40 increase in May, bringing the fee for curbside service to $198 a year. The county picks up the trash from about 125,000 households. The commercial tipping fee was unchanged.

Mr. Gary said he does not want to raise the residential fee again next year.

"I absolutely believe that any one these scenarios, or any combination of these scenarios, that we are talking about will solve our solid-waste problems for the next 50 years," Mr. Gary said.

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