HURLOCK — An informational meeting called by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) drew about 35 people to the Hurlock Elementary School on Nov. 19. Armed with opinions, facts, and passion to discuss the planned vertical expansion of the Beulah landfill, attendees were almost universally opposed to a project approved by the Dorchester County Council on Oct. 7, 2014. Anyone who agreed was hesitant to express an opinion in the midst of passionate resistance.
The session was called in response to a county application for a 75’ vertical expansion of the current landfill, known as New Beulah, and is the first step in the MDE permitting process. The landfill differentiates between Old Beulah, a closed landfill, and New Beulah which offers five “cells” for waste disposal.
Martha Hynson, Environmental Program manager of MDE’s Waste Management Administration, calmly led the emotion-laden meeting. Representatives of Geosyntec, an international consulting and engineering services business related to the environment, natural resources, and civil infrastructure, graphically explained how the Beulah landfill operates.
On hand for the county were Public Works Director Tom Moore and Landfill Manager Greg LeBlanc. Mr. Moore said, “The county needs to consider how to provide for the future disposal of solid waste. A vertical expansion is the most environmentally and financially sound option.”
Ms. Hynson clarified at the outset that the informational meeting was a first step in MDE’s application approval process. Phase I is the general report presented at this informational meeting. Phase II covers geology and hydrology; Phase III is the engineering design of the proposed expansion; Phase IV is an internal MDE review; and, Phase V is the public hearing where formal comments are taken. Geosyntec is preparing all phases for a $137,000 fee.
Geosyntec’s Jennifer Padgett presented a brief overview of the project and a detailed description of how landfill control systems work to protect groundwater, surface water, and gas. New Beulah’s footprint is 26.2 acres with expected capacity filled in 2017. The proposed expansion would add 75’ to New Beulah’s current height of 107’ above the surrounding land and this additional 23 percent capacity will be filled by 2023.
Surface and groundwater monitoring wells measure pollutants; natural and methane gas releases are collected and odor-controlled via a vertical extraction well; and a soil, clay, sand, and thick membrane liner control system collects “leachates” (pollutants) which are pumped to a storage tank for removal. Three stormwater management ponds surround the site. There is no uncontrolled run-off.
County Councilman Rick Price asked about “potential pollution effects” on nearby landowners. Ms. Hynson said monitoring wells surround the landfill and are sampled twice yearly for pollutants by an independent company and reviewed by MDE. Gas migration is monitored as well. Waste is covered with a tarp at the end of every day and with soil on Saturdays.
Resident Michelle Seretis reported she smells gas at times to which Ms. Hynson responded, “There is no requirement for monitoring air emissions. If our inspector comes out and doesn’t detect odors we can’t do anything. Call us and let us know when you smell them. I’m not aware of a persistent problem.”
According to national environmental group TerraPass, “because New Beulah’s permitted capacity is smaller than the Clean Air Act’s threshold for Title V operating permits, the landfill is not required to control its emissions or capture methane.” A voluntary carbon burning flare system project is unusual at a landfill “that may never be large enough to support electricity generation.”
A Gravel Branch road resident asked how tall the flare station is, what it emits, and how bright it will be when the vertical expansion is complete. Geosyntec senior engineer Jeremy W.F. Morris, PhD explained the flare is fully enclosed at the bottom of a 40’ tall pipe. It destroys over 95 percent of emissions and the balance is collected in a voluntarily installed system to pump off remaining emissions to gas collection wells.
Resident Gloria Dolan was concerned the 5 cell liner system might leak. Ms. Hynson explained that as a new cell is built the liner system of the previous cell is connected to the new one using overlapping seams so the entire bottom of the landfill is connected.
Rumors have persisted about sources outside the state using the landfill. According to Landfill Manager Greg LeBlanc, the county does not accept out of county trash and monitors all incoming vehicles. A private landfill called Hunting Ridge, operated by Waste Management Corp. from 1990-1993 and visible from Route 16, did accept waste from up and down the East Coast.
William Windsor asked if trucks are checked for source and content. Mr. Moore explained that two employees monitor the waste as it is dumped. The waste is spread evenly and employees see what it contains. If it is prohibited material the hauler must remove it. Inspectors come at unplanned times to ensure compliance with regulations.
For some, notification about the date, time, location, and subject of the meeting was an issue. Ms. Hynson clarified that under MD law, the county has to notify all property owners within 1,000’ from the proposed facility. Certified letters were sent to the Dept. of Natural Resources, (DNR), County Council, and all elected members who represent the part of the county where the landfill is located. The MDE placed a notification in a newspaper once weekly for two weeks, and the county posted a meeting notice at the proposed site.
Mr. Price asked if the county’s Solid Waste Management Plan (SWMP), finalized in 2009, was “considered and/or factored into this proposal?” Concerned Citizens of Northern Dorchester (CCND) were active in the SWMP’s preparation and worked closely with Geosyntec to develop a plan.
Zoning code restriction
CCND member Gloria Dolan stated that the current SWMP states “local zoning requirements also exist such as landfill height restrictions, currently 107’ mean sea level and the landfill slope which must be flatter than 3 to 1.” She suggested “these zoning requirements prevent this vertical expansion.” Senior Geosyntec engineer Dr. Jeremy W.F. Morris explained the restriction applies only to private landfills.
Ms. Dolan responded that as she understood it the zoning codes that restricted the vertical expansion were because of the Hunting Ridge Landfill but the restriction was “across the board.” She asked when those zoning codes were changed.
Mr. Moore said the local zoning code was not changed. The regulations “don’t apply to government projects for governmental purposes. They apply only to commercial landfills” and there was never discussion about changing the 107’ height limit.
Ms. Dolan countered that vertical expansion language was added within the past months without public input.
Ken Heesh who helped prepare the SWMP explained the original plan included a horizontal expansion. The current SWMP does not allow for increasing the 107’ height and recent changes made at the Oct. 7 council meeting by Resolution were unlawful. The change was never explained, he claimed. “With one dissention, Rick Price, they voted and passed it. I don’t think the process should go forward if they’re not following the proper procedures.”
Ms. Hynson responded that before the MDE makes a decision the proposed facility has to be in the solid waste management plan. In response to accusations from the CCND that the management plan was unlawfully and unfairly changed without proper public input, Ms. Hynson said she will investigate claims of irregularity.
A major objection by Mr. Windsor was the addition of another “Mt. Trashmore” to the flat landscape of the Eastern Shore. He suggested keeping any expansion at tree level rather than doing something “abnormal to the land.”
East New Market Mayor Caroline Cline complimented Geosyntec on the “technical aspects of this project. My concerns are the aesthetic aspects.” She said the Beulah Landfill is already an “eyesore” and she is concerned that by doubling the height it will be even more “offensive.” A second issue is the landfill’s proximity to the Veterans’ Cemetery. “How inappropriate that is.”
East New Market Commissioner David Tolley agreed. As a combat veteran of Vietnam he said he and his wife will be buried in the cemetery. “To me, the cemetery is a sacred, historical site. I think it would be appalling” to do the vertical expansion. He asked Councilman Price to connect with the other council members to rethink the project.
The citizens’ committee that fought a vertical expansion of the Hunting Ridge Landfill included Suzanne Trice who said the issue was fought on the basis that the increase was inappropriate to fit the topography of the land. And they won. “So why would the county do something that was denied to a private company.”
A strongly felt issue for Mr. Windsor was trash along the road near his home. “I get tired of picking up everybody else’s trash and this expansion will add to the problem,” he said. “Who is going to be held responsible for cleaning up the road I live on?”
Mr. LeBlanc said Route 16 is a state road. “We can call the state when we see trash on the road. I can’t promise they’ll get to it but I’ll do my part.”
Ms. Hynson suggested a series of fencing at the work space that are movable as wind directions change. Some are short, some intermediate, and some tall. She also recommended better monitoring of trucks that are improperly tarped.
Recycling is a process that many attendees recommended to reduce landfill waste. Hurlock Councilman Earl Murphy told Mr. Moore that his constituents are “begging for better facilities so there is less going to the landfill. A lot of people don’t use the Hurlock containers because they are always full.” Margaret Anzalone promotes recycling but says it is difficult to do in Dorchester County.
Mr. Windsor asked if the plan has already “gone through” without public input.
Ms. Hynson responded, “Well, you’re having your say now. It can’t be stopped just because you say you don’t want it. There needs to be a technical reason why landfill expansion cannot occur safely; that it’s not protecting the environment; it doesn’t meet local zoning and land use requirements; or it violates a MD statute or regulation. We don’t determine whether or not this is an appropriate location for a landfill site. That decision is made locally. The MDE reviews the application based on technical merits.”
Lenny Pfeffer asked if a feasibility study of a new landfill site has been done using inflation and economic indicator projections versus the cost of a six year band-aid until 2023 when New Beulah will be closed. Dr. Morris said, “No, Geosyntec’s responsibility was to maximize use of the current facility.”
Hurlock resident Blanche Powell succinctly summed up the problem: “The point is there is more waste and we have to do something with it.” None of us wants it, “but we’re the ones who make it.”