Free water hookups near landfill called unlikely


Howard County "definitely will not" provide water hookups free to Marriottsville residents living near contaminated Alpha Ridge landfill, County Council Chairman Charles C. Feaga said Monday night.

Cancer-causing contaminants have been discovered in test wells at the landfill, but none has turned up in nearby residential wells -- although residents believe it is only a matter of time before they do.

"People are living in fear each day -- not only [for] what they drink, but when they shower," Vincent Vecera told the County Council at a public hearing June 19. "They don't know what's happening to their health."

Mr. Vecera, who lives behind the landfill on Old Frederick Road, is one of the residents demanding free hookups. "You've created a killer," he told the council. "You put a killer situation right in the middle of a beautiful county."

Mr. Feaga thinks residents are exaggerating. "As of today, there is not one contaminated well outside the landfill," he said. "We're paying $10.5 million to put the lines out there [within the next 18 months]. We can't give everything totally free."

Democrat C. Vernon Gray of east Columbia said the county can and should provide free hookups. "If we caused the problem, we have the responsibility to clean it up," he told his colleagues last week. "We can't wait until cancer or some dreaded disease shows up."

Mr. Feaga said, however, that county payment of the cost of hookups -- $1.2 million for 307 homes -- "is not going to happen."

The best the county can do, Mr. Feaga believes, is give residents a loan -- allowing them to spread the hookup cost over a number of years at a low interest rate. If residents pay the entire tab, the cost to the average homeowner would be about $4,160 to hook up to the county water system. It would cost an additional $477 a year to receive the water.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker asked the council to allow residents to spread their hookup cost over 10 years. But Mr. Feaga, who represents the residents eligible to receive the water, prefers a 30-year repayment period.

A 30-year plan would allow residents to make smaller payments each year but would cost them more in the long run. A resident repaying a 6 percent loan within 10 years would pay about $563 a year in hookup costs -- $5,630 over the 10 years. A resident repaying a 30-year loan at the same rate would pay $302 a year or $9,060 over the 30-year period. In both instances, residents still would have to pay an additional $477 on average each year in water fees.

"It has been very, very difficult to come up with a compromise" acceptable to residents, Mr. Feaga said. Accordingly, the council voted unanimously and without debate Monday to postpone action on the low-cost loan proposal. Council members will not take it up again until at least July 24 and probably not until September, Mr. Feaga said.

"We need as much time as possible," to work out a solution, he said.

Although Mr. Feaga is adamant about not having the county pay for the hookups, the Ecker administration may be more pliable. It bowed to residents' demands at another contaminated landfill last week and agreed to spend $1 million to remove about 4,000 tons of contaminated soil from a Carrs Mill site the county stopped using nearly 20 years ago.

"Given what appeared to be a pretty strong preference on the part of the residents, we just figured we'd have to go with the most aggressive route for what the residents perceived as being necessary for their protection," said John J. O'Hara, chief of the county's Bureau of Waste Management.

It was "a reasonable, prudent, responsible thing to do," Mr. Ecker said.

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