Legislative Rubble

My bag of garbage once again proved it is smarter than my elected officials. This time, the Maryland legislature did the work of the state regulators whose job is to review permit applications when it imposed a three-year delay on the permitting of a “rubble fill.”

A three-year permitting delay will kill any proposed facility. (In Maryland, we call construction and demolition debris “rubble” instead of “C&D.” Therefore, a “rubble fill” is another term for a “C&D” landfill.)

The facility in question was to be built in Maryland's Eastern Shore. This mainly rural area, which is east of the Chesapeake Bay, is seeing rapid population growth from retirees and long-distance commuters who want a quieter lifestyle. In many cases, when they moved to the Eastern Shore, they built new houses or renovated older ones. Of course, their construction created rubble.

We all know that new disposal facilities can be unpopular. Opponents, whether they are newcomers or oldtimers, don't want additional truck traffic and think they are being “dumped on.” They don't want to be bothered with the detritus of a growing economy, even if it is theirs. Let the rubble go somewhere else! In Maryland, “somewhere else” is often called “Virginia.”

The rubble fill was to be located adjacent to a closed county dump which would be between it and Unicorn Lake. That became the crucial factor for opponents of the rubble fill. Unicorn Lake is an artificial lake that was built as an impoundment dam for a woolen mill in 1861.

The abandoned lake was bought by the state a century later for a dollar. Maryland's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) describes Unicorn Lake as a “43-acre impoundment that has a maximum depth of 8 feet, with a mean depth of roughly 4 feet.” The lake is a popular fishing spot and also is home to a fish hatchery.

Opponents declared they were trying to save one of Maryland's “most pristine lakes” from the “environmental devastation” that would be caused by placing a landfill “right next” to it.

The DNR was reviewing the rubble fill's permit application when the legislature enacted the three-year delay. The key factor leading to the bill's passage was the decision by the Maryland Senate to delay permitting for another rubble fill. In an amazing coincidence, that proposed facility would have been in the Senate President's district.

Now, state regulators also will have to wait three years before issuing a permit to any rubble fill located “within a mile of certain creeks and tributaries” in the county in which the latter proposed facility would have been located.

All of this raises a question. Why bother paying state employees to review permit applications when the Maryland Senate will do the job for free? For that matter, why not ban all rubble fills located within four miles of any lake or one mile of any creek or tributary within the state of Maryland?

I don't know if the facility location was bad or good. I don't know if the permit writers were going to approve the permit application and, if so, if they would have required the proper environmental controls. I don't need to know because the Maryland Senate says we don't need experts when we have politicians.

Opinions in this column do not necessarily reflect the National Solid Wastes Management Association or the Environmental Industry Associations. E-mail the author at: [email protected].

The columnist is state programs director for the Environmental Industry Associations, Washington, D.C.