[The Gravel Hill issue has been ongoing since 1989. The amount of information is so great that we will continue the story in four segments. The first article will be an overview on what the Gravel Hill Rubblefill issue is about. The second article will highlight the first year’s history; the third article will deal with the next five years followed by the final article for 1996 to present.]
The Harford County Council (HCC) held the first of two public hearings November 7, 1989 to consider approval of the 55 acre site on Gravel Hill Road into the Harford County Solid Waste Plan (SWMP) for disposal of rubble and asbestos. This site is owned by Maryland Reclamation Associates, Inc. (MRA). In 1988, the Council had accepted two sites totaling 100 acres onto the SWMP but neither were to accept asbestos. At this November hearing, the Council was misinformed several times by members of the Harford County Department of Public Works (DPW) that the MD Department of the Environment (MDE) had directed the County to designate a site within the county by fall 1990 for asbestos disposal. In December 1989, William Chicca, MDE Director of Hazardous and Solid Waste, stated asbestos did not have to be disposed within HC. HC only had to inform MDE where it was to be disposed. Also, on November 14, 1989, misinformation occurred when the County Attorney informed the Council that MDE would automatically accept the Gravel Hill site into SWMP if the Council failed to vote by November 17. The Council unexpectedly voted 4 for and 3 abstentions to accept the site. Councilwomen Parrott and Risacher abstained because of lack of information. Councilman Schafer abstained. His son Richard had told the Council that he was president and sole owner of MRA.
Engineering plans showed that the 150 year old St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.), focal point of this 200 year old African-American community and one of the first Freedman communities in Maryland, along with its historical cemetery with at least six Civil War veterans, was to be surrounded on three sides by three mountains of rubble -- one within 25 feet of the corner of the church. The asbestos cell was to be within 25 feet of a resident’s yard and home with only a row of trees as a buffer. Many residents live within 60 feet of the proposed landfill along the 20 foot wide Gravel Hill Road. The road is narrow, curvy, shoulderless, with no sidewalks and will be dominated by several hundred trucks daily. Children will be waiting for and leaving school buses along the road.
There are 250 wells within 2,500 feet of the site. No public water supply is available. Dues to past gravel excavations in the area in the 1960's and earlier, residents have had long standing problems with their water supply, requiring deeper wells or new ones. Residents worry about the impact this proposed landfill will have on local ground water supplies -- quality and quantity.
Important issues were not resolved -- water, traffic, school buses, dust, noise, safety, quality of life, devaluation of homes. Wetlands abound on the site with tributaries to Swan Creek and eventually to the Chesapeake Bay.
The residents of Gravel Hill asked for an investigation by the Grand Jury of this 1989 Council vote but it was summarily denied by the States Attorney after being told the Grand Jury was not going on a fishing expedition.
Rev. Jeffery Wilson became the new Council President. On February 12, 1990, Resolution 4-90 was introduced to the Council “amending the Harford County Solid Waste Management Plan to delete the Gravel Hill Rubblefill Site”.
One day prior to the first of the Public Hearings for the Resolution (March 13, 1990), MRA filed a $2.9 million suit against four residents who were opposing this rubble and asbestos fill in the Gravel Hill community. These four residents filed a counter suit since the action brought against them by MRA was an attempt to deprive them of their rights of free speech by intimidation. The Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) was eventually settled a year later, out -of-court with MRA paying the four that they sued the sum of $24,000. This legal intimidation was the forerunner of continuous legal actions concerning this proposed landfill that have occurred since May 1990.
The Council allowed four hearings for the Resolution. On May 8, the Council voted to delete the Gravel Hill site from the SWMP. Three days later on May 11, MRA filed against Harford County and the Harford County Council seeking a court order to nullify the Council vote that had killed MRA’s plan for a rubble and asbestos landfill on Gravel Hill Road. October, 1990 Circuit Court Judge Whitfill ruled that the Harford County Council “exceeded its delegated authority when it reversed its approval of a proposed rubble landfill in Gravel Hill near Havre de Grace”. The Council deadlocked (3 - 3) so did not appeal. However, the Gravel Hill intervenors appealed the Circuit Court decision.
The November 1990 elections brought five new members into the Council chamber. Political observers noted that the proposed Gravel Hill Rubblefill might have been a factor in the defeat of Councilmen Fielder, Hatem, Hooper and also of Delegate Cox, who was a guarantor of the loan to purchase the Gravel Hill site.
On March 13, 1991 this new Council passed new requirements for all rubble landfills. These included sites of at least 100 acres, buffers of at least 1000 feet from residents and buildings, and at least 500 feet from wetlands and floodplains along with the 200-foot buffers already established in the Harford County Code for other boundaries. Also included were height restrictions, fencing and the operator showing a need for a landfill in the area where it was to be located with no negative impacts on the environment. MRA filed a suit for Declaratory Judgement and Injunctive Relief on June 21, 1991 in Circuit Court against the new bill requirements. Legal action continued over the next two years and, on May 6, 1993, MRA filed in Circuit Court for Summary Judgement. The County, Council and Intervenors’ lawyers filed against Summary Judgement. On March 19, 1994 Judge Whitfill’s Circuit Court decision upheld the 91-10 law saying the law is uniform for all such rubble land fill operations and is not unconstitutional. The court decision said, “We believe the issue turns upon power and not motive” and rules:
On March 13, 1993, Harford County approved the over 200 year old St. James A.M.E. Church cemetery as an Historic Landmark. It is now under consideration for designation as a National Historic Landmark.
The Maryland Court of Appeals agreed with the Circuit Court decision. On its unanimous 35- page court decision that the MRA case is not ripe for a judicial decision -- that MRA had not exhausted its administrative remedies -- should have requested either a variance or a zoning exception before filing in Circuit Court. Since that Appeal Court decision:
The June 8, 1996 Maryland Appeal Court decision said that the developers of the proposed rubble landfill must go through Harford County’s zoning appeal process before suing to overturn a County law blocking the landfill. As of this date, MRA has not filed for a variance or zoning exception. Instead MRA has filed 5 applications to the zoning appeal examiner for interpretations of the Department of Planning & Zoning’s decision that MRA is subject to the zoning and land use restrictions -- minimum acreage requirements, setbacks for homes and other restrictions. MRA has filed one application for a building permit. Planning & Zoning’s interpretation was that MRA had to abide by new zoning regulations. Since 1996 and after four years of applications to the Zoning Hearing Examiner for interpretation requests, 9 of the 12 scheduled hearings have been postponed for various reasons. The first was stayed by the Circuit Court. One was heard on a specific point of law for dismissal and the last motion for limine is still pending.
On May 18, 2000 the specially appointed Hearing Examiner, Greg Rapisarda, heard arguments from MRA, County and Intervenors’ attorney concerning limiting the input from residents on a motion of limine entered by MRA and debated by opponent’s lawyer. Mr. Rapisarda postponed the next two hearing dates until he had time to become more familiar with the five books of exhibits entered that evening. So the next hearing date has not been set.
Patience has been rewarded. Congratulations to all the folks who attended over 10 years of hearings in opposition to rubblefill plans for the Gravel Hill Road area of Havre de Grace. The request by Maryland Reclamation Associates (MRA) was recently denied by Harford County’s Zoning Hearing Examiner. If MRA continues to attempt to place a rubblefill here, we have no doubt that the residents will rally against it yet again.
Havre de Grace residents have been opposing a proposed 68 acre rubble fill by Maryland Reclamations Associates, Inc. (MRA) which is next to the designated historic St. James A.M.E. Church. This fight has been going on since 1989. Last month, the Maryland Court of Appeals “stayed” the MRA lawsuit because the corporation had not “exhausted all administrative remedies before filing suit”. In other words, MRA must receive a zoning variance from the County before any lawsuit can be heard. The Court told MRA the same thing in 1996. Friends of Harford published the complete history of the legal wrangling in previous newsletters. Copies are available upon request.
Two of the eight variances recommended for approval; the remaining six requested variances recommended for denial in a 73 page decision. Net effect: Denied.