Frank Santoro pulled his truck into the county's yard waste drop-off in Fallston last week, the bed filled with neatly bagged grass and hedge clippings. The Kingsville resident, who comes to unload his lawn trimmings every few months, was unhappy to hear the site is going to be closed at the end of next month.
"Well, that's terrible," Santoro said as he tossed the bags into one of the eight large metal containers the county provides for residents. "The best thing they ever did was put this site in," he said.
"People are going to bring their junk here anyway," he added, shaking his head.
The Harkins administration announced two weeks ago that the yard waste sites were being shut down Sept. 30, in hopes of saving the county nearly a half-million dollars. But some residents and county officials are angry, saying the money spent on such programs is well worth it to residents and helps curtail illegal dumping.
But that's a big part of the problem, county officials say. The residential-only sites in Bel Air, Fallston, Abingdon and Churchville are being used by commercial haulers who dump large quantities of branches illegally and by homeowners who dump garbage, old furniture and appliances at the yard collection sites, which are not staffed.
"That's always a concern," said Jerry Scanlon, chief of the solid waste division at the county's Department of Public Works. "Unfortunately, we have illegal dumping going on in the county on a regular basis."
He said the contract haulers the county has used since privatizing the collection service four years ago have found it increasingly difficult to deal with the yard refuse, which often becomes contaminated by other waste and has to be put into the landfill.
And that's not what county officials want, because the program was started in the early 1990s after the state banned yard waste from landfills.
Robert S. Wagner, County Council president, was on the council when the program was started. He said yard waste was often stuffed into bags with trash layered on top to hide it. He wonders if the county will see a return to those times.
Though the plan's end is designed to save money, Wagner said, he wonders how much money will be recouped in the end if residents begin dumping illegally. "You're still going to be running crews out there to clean it up," he said.
"I think they needed to look somewhere else," he said, adding that administrators who suggested the cut may not be familiar with the program's history. He said council members have been getting calls from residents, and "those who know about it are not happy about losing it."
But still, the sites are a mess. It's commonplace to find old toilets and rusting refrigerators intermingled with mounds of leafy branches.
Brian Wickham, evening supervisor at Ray's Refuse and Recycling, the Baltimore County company that has the contract to haul the waste in the 30- cubic-yard containers to the county's Scarboro landfill in Street, said "it's never an easy battle" trying to keep up with the dumping.
As he scooped up branches using a Bobcat loader, he said the commercial haulers play a "cat-and-mouse game" with him, waiting for crews to clean a site and leave it before coming in a short time later and dumping more large loads, usually on the ground, often blocking the path to empty containers.
Wickham said at least at Scarboro, people coming in to drop off waste will be monitored.
Robert Chance, founder of the Susquehannock Environmental Center in Bel Air, another yard waste drop-off site, said news of the sites' closings is disappointing. "I know the government is trying to find ways to reduce costs," he said.
Chance added that the volume of material has grown substantially in the past few years, overwhelming the program. "It is such a huge monster," he said. "I'm sorry that it has to happen, but I kind of understand."
Still, he said, he is concerned that the closings will lead to more roadside waste.
In scrapping the program, Harford joins Carroll as the only other Baltimore-area county that doesn't offer yard waste collection other than at the county landfill. Baltimore, Howard and Anne Arundel counties offer curbside recycling to most customers, except in some rural areas. But they spend anywhere from $850,000 in Baltimore County and $800,000 in Howard to $3.3 million in Anne Arundel on yard waste collection programs, officials say.
Anne Arundel also has three full-service centers where residents can bring yard waste, trash, other recycling and larger items, such as old furniture.
"One of the biggest things to do to encourage recycling is to make it convenient," said Linda Currier, solid waste operations manager in Anne Arundel County's Department of Public Works.
Last week, residents at the Fallston site said Scarboro is inconvenient and they doubt most people will bother going. Some said they would have to pay to have yard waste hauled away.
Maryellen Fyhr of Kingsville, who had brought a trunkload of evergreen boughs in her Ford Taurus sedan, said she would probably have to accumulate yard waste and rent a truck periodically to take it to the landfill.
"That's a shame," Fyhr said of the program's end. "They'll use this as a dump. Oh my gosh, that's going to be scary."