Wicomico tables landfill land acquisition plan

After hearing from west Salisbury residents concerned that land — under consideration for use as a borrow pit — could someday become a landfill expansion, the Wicomico County Council tabled the matter for now.

The residents spoke at a public hearing last Tuesday.

It will be discussed again on Tuesday, Nov. 20, giving county lawyers time to determine how to guarantee Resolution No. 130-2018 — to authorize the County Executive to purchase land along the southwesterly side of Route 50 for mining soil but not as a dump — could never be changed to allow expanding the county’s landfill there.

Councilman Matt Holloway made the motion to table the matter and it was approved by unanimous vote.

County Attorney Paul Wilbur asked council members “for a couple weeks to lock this down.”

Following the public hearing, Council President John Cannon asked if there was a motion to pass the resolution. Councilman Marc Kilmer made the motion for the purpose of discussion.

Councilman Ernie Davis, who represents the area in question, addressed resident Shanie Shields, who earlier asked about trucks carrying truckloads of dirt to the area, even though the county hasn’t purchased the land.

Davis said those trucks are taking dirt to the existing landfill, where a previously approved disposal cell will be built, and that it is not being used for expansion.

Davis said he is concerned if the resolution passed it could be changed someday to allow the county to put a landfill there.

“It is not etched in stone and I am against it,” he said.

Councilman Joe Holloway asked attorney Wilber and County Administrative Director Wayne Strausburg to find a way to “iron clad this thing, so it can never be changed.”

Kilmer said although the current council could reject the land, a future council could buy it and make it a landfill.

Councilman Larry Dodd asked if the resolution could be protected by requiring a super-majority vote.

During the public hearing, the Rev. Thomas Tucker was first to ask if the resolution could ever be changed, to the detriment of west side residents.

Talena Watson, representing her husband the Rev. Lewis N. Watson, said she is concerned about landfill expansion at the corner of Route 50 and Naylor Mill Road because toxins and pollutants from the landfill could create health hazards and contaminate the groundwater.

The Rev. George Copeland repeated residents’ concerns.

“We are praying we can set this in stone, regardless of who sits in the seats that you are now in, that you can guarantee it will not be a landfill because it will affect our neighbors. Do unto others as you want them to do unto you,” he said.

Mary Ashanti, president of the Wicomico County NAACP, said she hopes the decision the council makes would “get rid of the idea” of expanding the landfill into residential areas “for health reasons and also for the fact that there have been so many negative things put on the West Side.”

State Delegate Sheree Sample-Hughes, who lives in Salisbury, called the matter “very important to the community she serves.”

She said citizens at the public hearing “are here to sing that same message.”

“While we have some citizens here, we have others that could not be present, but they are also very much concerned … we on the west side deserve better and we do expect our part of the county to thrive as well as other parts of the county,” Sample-Hughes said.

Shields, a former Salisbury City Councilwoman, called for more education about the importance of recycling and said she knows the county makes money on the landfill, but the community should not have to go to public hearings. Instead, Council members should go into the community and explain their plans.

“We need to know what the plans are in 20 years. While we are sleeping, people are planning and we need to get away from that,” she said.

Several weeks ago, west side residents received letters from the Maryland Department of the Environment informing them the Wicomico County Landfill could expand north, toward Route 50, affecting their neighborhoods.

Concerned and objecting, several residents came to the County Council meeting to tell Council members their understanding was northern expansion would not be considered.

Assistant County Administrator Weston Young explained county administration sent the possibility of northern expansion to the state as an option “to get our foot in the door” before County Council members decided against it, prompting the MDE to mail letters to Salisbury residents.

Wicomico County doesn’t even own the property where northern expansion could be, and it won’t happen now because it “has been taken off the table,” by the County Council, Young said.

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