The ballroom at the DoubleTree Hotel in Annapolis was packed Feb. 23 with West Anne Arundel County residents who were ready for the presentation by the Maryland Department of the Environment.
The gathering concerned MDE’s approval of a Refuse Disposal Permit Application submitted by National Waste Managers ― a subsidiary or Silver Spring-based Halle Development ― for the Chesapeake Terrace Rubble Landfill, which was proposed for a site along Patuxent Road that is now adjacent to Odenton’s Two Rivers community about 35 years ago.
Their fight to stop it has never stopped, so the testy throng that posted for yet another meeting about the project was all too eager to share its collective concerns about traffic, the environment, health, home values, etc., as they have been for decades in hopes that this saga will eventually end.
When the landfill was initially proposed, the junction of Patuxent and Conway roads, which is now the site of an elaborate traffic circle, was rural. However, given the development in recent years of Two Rivers and of nearby Piney Orchard more than 30 years ago, the complexion of the project and how it would affect the community has greatly changed.
Today, for instance, the only county-approved access road to the landfill would lie beside the under-construction West County Elementary School, which fronts along the western side of Conway and is the sole access road to Two Rivers, which currently encompasses approximately 1,800 homes for about 5,000 residents, with 250 and 1,000 more on the way, respectively.
While MDE officials who were on hand for the Feb, 23 event encouraged the meeting’s attendees to speak and stayed long past the scheduled end of the event to hear their concerns, the department offered no further comment for the article, instead referring queries to its webpage; as for Halle, requests for comment were not returned by press time.
However, the angry and concerned members of the community were more than happy to discuss their feelings about how the landfill could affect their lives.
Ed Riehl is chair of the Two Rivers Landfill Opposition Committee and spoke at the Feb. 23 meeting. He and his wife bought their home four years ago and, moving from Illinois, were unaware of the controversy.
“The sales agent didn’t disclose the possibility of landfill being built, as they did about the proximity of the BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, the Fort Meade firing range, the MARC train,” etc., Riehl said. “However, Dover Hankins [of Classic Homes, one of the developers of Two Rivers], said the sales agents weren’t required to mention the landfill during negotiations because it wasn’t a sure thing.
“But if I’d known that it might be built,” he said, “I probably would have thought more about where I wanted to buy.”
Riehl’s bottom line is that the ingress and egress into Two Rivers “is insufficient for what is estimated to be a semi-truck rolling in every three minutes, with the one entry by the new elementary school,” he said, noting that there had been a plan for a different access road before the school came into play.
“In my mind, there’s no way to access the landfill safely,” he said, “and furthermore, who wants a landfill in their backyard?”
‘Not dead yet’
While it would still take a great deal of work and expense for Halle to build the project, it appears that some of the locals are already taking action, as there are murmurs about residents selling their homes to avoid a potential issue.
As for a next step from Anne Arundel County, it “doesn’t need to do anything at this point,” said County Executive Steuart Pittman, a Democrat. “When we purchased the land by the school, we blocked the only access Halle was allowed. MDE (which has extended the comment period to May 1) can give them the permit, but [Halle] still has to play by the planning and zoning rules.”
So the court battle goes on as Halle hopes to find a way in. As for the community, it gradually became much more understanding of and attentive to the threat, especially after Halle’s well-documented $250,000 in campaign contributions to Pittman’s opposition in the recent county executive race, Republican Jessica Haire.
While there could still be an end to this issue at some point, “The community is understandably concerned that someone spent 35 years trying to put something in their neighborhood that isn’t appropriate or wanted,” said Sen. Jim Rosepepe (D-District 21).
“The developer still has intent, so the public feels like if it’s not dead yet, it’s not dead yet,” Rosepepe said. “There’s not a zero chance, so people are still concerned.”
It’s the money
Halle obviously didn’t know who the next county executive would be when it made that whopping campaign contribution, so that could partially explain its dogged pursuit of the project. County Councilperson Julie Hummer added more insight as to why Halle won’t back down.
“I’ve had developers tell me that a landfill is the most lucrative project you can build,” Hummer said, “and I think that’s why Halle keeps trying.”
Noting that the new school will already contribute to increased traffic on Conway Road, she said the real issue at hand is finding “a way to end ‘zombie’ permits. There needs to be some kind of sundown. This controversy should have ended (in a county that has a moratorium on new landfills), one way or another, years ago.
“[Halle] has to realize at some point that nobody wants this,” she said. “Back in the ’80s, that was a rural corridor. With Two Rivers and the school, it’s a very different landscape concerning quality of life, traffic, environmental issues,” etc.
And if she’d bought a house in Two Rivers “and hadn’t been told about the landfill, I would have been upset, too,” Hummer said, while adding a note that refers to the community’s original concept, when it was marketed as a 55-Plus community.
“Don’t mess with retired people,” she said. “They’ll put up a fight and have time on their hands.”