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Of political boycotts, unsigned letters and landfill plans

July 15, 1997

Of political boycotts, unsigned letters and landfill plans

"I'd like to speak out, but my husband's in business and they might try to see that he doesn't get any work."

I've heard that speech in various forms - "I've got to work with these people, you know" - for all of the 24 years I've worked at The Herald-Mail. Usually it's accompanied by a plea that the paper "do something" about the situation at hand.

But now I'm hearing it from potential candidates for office here, who mention the troubles encountered by County Commissioner Jim Wade, who drew the wrath of local labor organizations after he voted to decertify the county roads workers' union.

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Now in my view, Wade has made his own bed on this issue, because his campaign statements indicated he would be a friend of labor, and involve local unions in the search for new industry. From the unions' point of view, it's natural to be more upset when someone you thought was a friend doesn't back you up.

But threats to boycott Wade's business are having an unintended effect. Other would-be candidates (at least those I've spoken to) are wondering if the same might happen to them, and their respective businesses, if they take the "wrong" stand on an issue.

As I said at the beginning of this piece, people who beg off on getting involved themselves usually want the newspaper to get involved in their stead. But journalists can't run for office, not unless they quit their jobs first.

And so all I can do is try to encourage good people to run. I encourage those who oppose Wade to take him on at the polls, not at his business, because the unforeseen consequence of that will be frightening away the good people we desperately need to run for office here.

***

In a box that appears on this page almost every day, The Herald-Mail has made it clear that it won't print unsigned letters to the editor. And yet we continue to get requests to do so. Just this past week I got one letter from someone about the nice Sunday concerts at Pen Mar Park and another from from a hospital worker who described the childlike joy of taking off one's shoes and wading in a rain puddle. If you want to see 'em in the paper, I've got to have your names, so call me at (301) 733-5131, ext.7622, between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m.

***

Now that Washington County's new Lund Landfill has been re-designed to extend its life from an estimated 25 years to 80 years, a plan is being kicked around to use some of that extra capacity to accept out-of-the-area waste to help deal with the county's water-and-sewer debt.

Commissioner Ron Bowers said he had discussed such a plan, but said that it was much more elaborate than just seeking new garbage customers.

On the tract, Bowers said, there are 190 acres available for trash disposal out of a total of 425 acres. Some part of that property could be used for 50 to 75 years as an industrial park, Bowers said, for businesses like Clean Rock Industries, a company which turns old construction rubble into new road base.

Put companies which utilize scrap cardboard, glass and the like into an area where those raw materials are delivered daily, and new revenue would be generated so general fund money wouldn't have to be used for sewer expenditures.

Bowers said he isn't talking only about debt reduction, but about generating money to lay new pipe to bring additional customers on line. This is the plan that Steve Sager, Hagerstown's former mayor, said wouldn't work.

The idea of putting businesses that would utilize materials brought to the landfill is a good one, but the county would first have to get past any public resistance to taking in garbage from other areas.

Would people in other areas be as scrupulous about what they put in their garbage, knowing it was some other area's groundwater at risk? Would the county have to set up some sort of recycling operation like the one Commissioner John Shank visited in Robertson County, Tennessee in 1991?

That plant used the Lundell Waste Recovery System and rescues ferrous metals, glass recyclable plastic and aluminum, while paper, cardboard and some light plastics and turned into pellets which can be burned as an alternative fuel.

The catch? Back in 1991, that system cost $1 million to install and probably wouldn't any cheaper today. All of these plans, it seems, require spending money to make money, an idea citizens may have a hard time swallowing right now.

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