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ANOTHER deadline is near for a decision on Carroll County's long-term solid waste disposal plans, and the choices haven't changed much.

Landfill the trash or go with a controversial new co-composting system that claims to turn garbage into potting soil. Incineration, at least within the county, is without support.

Finding a new acceptable landfill site in the county is almost impossible, due to resident objections and open-ended potential liability for pollution. Northern Landfill will run out of room for waste disposal in less than a decade.

So the county commissioners are weighing proposals by private contractors to dispose of Carroll's detritus. One would build the co-composting system, using trash and sewage sludge, at the Northern site, near Reese. Another would collect Carroll's waste at a transfer station and ship it out of state for either burial or burning, at the company's choice, but ultimate disposal would be outside the county.

The price for transfer station disposal with Waste Management Inc. is firm, so county government and residents would know what their per-ton costs would be. But there would be no county ownership of a disposal system, even though the legal liability associated with land disposal elsewhere might remain.

The idea of co-composting has intrigued county officials with its promise of contained, prompt biological conversion of solid waste without having to sort materials for recycling. The county could eventually own the facility proposed by Bedminster Bioconversions Corp., which has developed similar systems in other states. Or Carroll might share the project cost with neighboring Adams County, Pa.

But the dumping cost per ton would vary widely, depending on factors such as the market for the soil nutrient. And there have been serious operational problems with Bedminster's technology elsewhere, problems that proponents argue can be corrected in a new $40 million plant for Carroll County.

Environmental factors favor co-composting, economics favor transfer. A short-term transfer-site contract might be the best deal, until co-composting plants can better prove their effectiveness. After a dozen years of study, however, county officials must make a decision soon. Time and space are running out.

Pub Date: 4/23/97

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