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Landfill bridge called a mistake

May 10, 1997

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

Washington County Commissioner James R. Wade says a plan to spend at least $3 million to build a bridge and access road across the Conococheague Creek to the future Lund landfill is a mistake that will cost the county taxpayers money for the benefit of a few residents.

Wade said he thought it would be wiser and less costly to upgrade Independence Road to access the landfill, which wouldn't require a bridge.

But a 1990 agreement to appease residents who opposed the landfill, signed by then-Washington County Commissioners President Ronald L. Bowers on behalf of the commissioners, specifically forbids trash-hauling vehicles from using Independence Road. The agreement locked the county into using a road on the other side of the Conococheague Creek as the landfill's main entrance.

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Wade said the bridge and access road would probably end up costing $4.5 million, and said upgrading Independence Road probably would have cost much less than that.

"Unfortunately, we really can't do that now because of that legal document," he said.

Bowers said the agreement he signed doesn't force the county to build a bridge.

Instead, Bowers said there are other ways to get garbage across the Conococheague.

"I was a very strong proponent of having some kind of chute or tunnel or conveyor belt," Bowers said Wednesday. Bowers said he talked to engineering firms about the possibility of building a slurry system to pipe trash over the Conococheague.

"I figured by the time we got to use it there would be some modern technology that it could be done," Bowers said.

Asked why the county didn't choose to pursue a conveyor belt or slurry system, Bowers said, "nobody wanted to get into it...I couldn't convince staff in the county to look at it in a different way."

The timing for construction of the bridge and the opening of the Lund landfill will depend on factors such as how much trash the county receives and if the county receives regulatory approval for additional cells at the Resh landfill, according to County Administrator Rod Shoop.

Bridge construction will not begin before next year.

Bowers and Commissioner R. Lee Downey, who was also a member of the county commissioners in 1990, have defended the bridge. They said that the cost of the bridge when paid over the 40- to 100-year life of the landfill didn't amount to much.

Downey said the commissioners were told upgrading Independence Road would cost a significant amount of money and said the commissioners also wanted to avoid conflict with nearby residents who had threatened to fight the landfill in the courts.

Bowers said the bridge would also be an economic development tool. Some of the land on the 425-acre Lund property could be used for a mini-industrial park until the land is needed for landfill space decades from now, he said. Bowers likened the bridge to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge for its potential to spur development. Bowers also said the bridge could be used to haul stone from a quarry on Rockdale Road.

Bowers contended that a decision by the commissioners to raise landfill tipping fees from $40 to $45 a ton at its nearby Resh Road landfill was costing the county far more money due to lost business than the bridge would cost.

"To argue about $5 million when you raise landfill rates and lose $2.3 million a year to me is a poor argument," Bowers said.

Bowers also took a swipe at his critics.

"If we went on the recommendations of some people, we wouldn't have a sewer plant and we wouldn't have a landfill and we wouldn't have an airport. I don't know where we'd be - probably back in the horse and buggy days."

The 1990 agreement also locks the county into a number of other conditions, such as testing of nearby wells and construction of berms when the landfill opens.

In return, the 10 residents who signed the agreement agreed not to fight the landfill.

The original agreement would have forced the county to connect the landfill access road to Md. 63.

In 1995, the county renegotiated the agreement allowing the entrance road to connect to U.S. 40 east of Walnut Point Road, which would still require a bridge - or one of Bowers' conveyor belts.

The county bought the landfill site from Washington, D.C., Attorney Wendell L. Lund for $1.2 million in 1990.

When the 425-acre landfill site was first proposed, a group calling itself Save the Conococheague, consisting of nearby residents and environmentalists, formed to block the landfill, which is bordered on three sides by the creek.

The group was concerned about contamination of groundwater and a potential drop in property values and argued that the multimillion-dollar bridge, which they estimated would cost $5 million, made the project too costly.

Others including then-state Del. Pete Callas and state Sen. Donald Munson blasted the project at the time in part because of the need for a multimillion-dollar bridge.

Then-County Administrator Barry Teach said in 1990 the bridge would be put in to keep the operation separate from homes along Independence Road and Fulton Drive. "And it's only for that reason that a bridge has been prepared."

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