November 10, 2006

aLegislators vow to deep-six
ban on dumping yard waste

Charging that the Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control and the Delaware Solid Waste Authority imposed the prohibition against dumping grass clippings, leaves and other yard waste onto the Cherry Island Marsh landfill without a plan for making the ban work, Brandywine Hundred legislators said they will seek to overturn it when the General Assembly convenes in January.

"This is a ban without a plan. ... It's a significant amount of money for not a lot of gain," said Representative Wayne Smith.

Representative Diana McWilliams said the public furor over the ban has renewed the impetus for enacting comprehensive statewide recycling legislation.

Representative Greg Lavelle said it is unrealistic to expect any significant number of residents to take up composting -- one of the environmentally-conscious methods being advocated to deal with the material. On the contrary, he said, a larger number will resort to 'midnight dumping' it by roadsides and in parks while the elderly and those on fixed incomes will be burdened with the cost of having it hauled away.

The three lawmakers spoke at a meeting of the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred on Nov. 9 at which officials of the department and the authority attempted to convince about 125 mostly skeptical and objecting attenders that the ban will be minimally invasive and easy to comply with.

"This is something that has worked successfully elsewhere," said James Werner, director of the department's Division of Air and Waste Management.

Although he acknowledged at one point that "not all is in place yet," Werner insisted that there is a bevy of private haulers anxiously awaiting the opportunity to compete for the business of collecting the material to recycle as mulch, wood chips and such. "A lot of small businesses are going to get into it," he said.

He said he could not be precise about what they are likely to charge, but indicated it would be in the range of $3 to $5 a month more than the current fee for trash collection.

Wally Kremer, chairman of the civic council's environmental committee, said that collection firms will soon be sending letters to their customers "telling what they are planning."

Pasquale Canzano, the waste authority's chief operating officer, said that because trash collecting is a highly competitive business "haulers are going to wait until we get closer to the deadline before they tip their hand."

The ban is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.

Werner said, however, that it will be up to a year before it will be fully enforced. The department will focus its efforts during 2007 on educating the public about the rationale for the ban. Primarily, that is said to be to reduce the amount of material going into the landfill. Yard waste accounts of about a fourth of the volume of material now being dumped.

He added that the public presently is confused because of misinformation and lack of information being disseminated. "We send information to the newspaper, but it doesn't get printed," he said.

Natural resources secretary John Hughes earlier this year imposed a prohibition against the authority accepting yard waste at its Cherry Island Marsh landfill as a condition for granting a permit to increase its height to 194 feet. Werner said that when that limit is reached, there will be no more permits issued and a new landfill site will have to be found in New Castle County -- an unlikely prospect -- or the trash will have to be shipped out of state to sites in Virginia, West Virginia or western Pennsylvania.

Smith disputed the claim that eliminating yard waste will significantly prolong the life of the Cherry Island Marsh site. He said Hughes testified before the legislature last spring that if yard waste is banned the new height limit will keep the landfill in service until 2017. If it is not banned, Smith quoted the secretary as saying, it would require only an additional seven feet to accommodate it until then.

Commercial trash collectors operating north of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal are required by law to dump at the Cherry Island Marsh site. Trash collected in New Castle County south of the canal goes to the Kent County landfill, which is not covered by the yard waste ban.

Actually, there is some question about the linking of the ban to the landfill expansion permit. It previously was put forth as a provision in a proposed state law mandating residential recycling. The law was not enacted largely because of opposition from Kent and Sussex County lawmakers.

Before that, there was a proposal for the department to use its broad regulatory authority to impose such a ban as an incentive to get backing for broader recycling legislation. It was thought, however, whether going that route could be successfully challenged in a court suit.

In any event, Canzano told the civic meeting that "we (the authority) fully support the ban."

Frances West, president of the Civic League for New Castle County, said that recycling "is going to be a county [government] responsibility in the near future." Although that will mean that county taxpayers will bear the cost it should be regarded as an 'urban service' that should be publicly financed.

Smith said that it will be necessary to reconsider the statewide prohibition against trash incineration. Supporting that ban several years ago, he said, "is one of the worst votes I've cast in the General Assembly."


2006. All rights reserved.