More Il­le­gal Dump­ing Along Pepco Lines

The Washington Post Sunday - - Maryland - By Mi­randa S. Spi­vack

Thou­sands of pounds of con­crete, tires, brush, car parts, can­is­ters and other de­bris have been dumped il­le­gally next to a rare eco­log­i­cal park in a rural part of Po­tomac that Mont­gomery County paid $ 9 mil­lion to pur­chase four years ago.

The piles of de­bris sit next to the 258- acre Ser­pen­tine Bar­rens Con­ser­va­tion Park on land owned by Pepco, and some trash piles ap­pear to be in the park. It is the sec­ond time this year that the com­pany and county of­fi­cials have ac­knowl­edged a large il­le­gal dump­ing ground un­der Pepco power lines.

The park is a rare eco­log­i­cal tract. Just be­low the sur­face is green, pock­marked bedrock from the earth’s early days. Its min­er­als make the ground un­wel­com­ing to most lo­cal plant life, but at least 20 rare plant species make it their home.

The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported last month about a dump on a sep­a­rate Pepco prop­erty in Ash­ton. County records show that of­fi­cials asked Pepco in 2002 to en­sure that dump­ing ended but did not check again un­til an­other com­plaint was made in early 2006.

“ I should have fol­lowed up,” in­spec­tor Peter R. Dil­ima of the county De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion said.

En­vi­ron­men­tal com­pli­ance chief Stan Ed­wards said the agency is un­able to pa­trol the hun­dreds of acres in the county, es­pe­cially in more iso­lated ar­eas, where dump­ing of­ten oc­curs. In­stead, in­spec­tors rely on tips. “ We are largely com­plaint- driven,” he said.

In the fis­cal year that ended June 30 the agency re­sponded to about 400 com­plaints about il­le­gal dump­ing in the county.

Pepco of­fi­cials, who watch over hun­dreds of miles of land un­der their power lines, say they strug­gle to keep tres­passers out.

Some dumpers pre­fer to risk a fine be­cause the county rarely im­poses a penalty for a first of­fense. Those who dump il­le­gally can avoid spend­ing hun­dreds of dol­lars in fees to get rid of their loads legally or find a friendly per­son with ac­cess to an il­le­gal dump site who of­fers to charge them less.

A mis­de­meanor in Mont­gomery, il­le­gal dump­ing is pun­ish­able by six months in jail and a $ 1,000 fine. Unau­tho­rized stor­age of solid waste on private prop­erty car­ries a fine of $ 500 a day. The agency rarely cites vi­o­la­tors un­less they re­peat­edly break the law, Ed­wards said. In­stead, of­fi­cials en­cour­age com­pli­ance so vi­o­la­tors do not dump again, he said.

“ There are go­ing to be other dump­ing in­ci­dents on Pepco prop­erty, I am sure,” he said.

Within the county’s en­vi­ron­ment agency, one in­spec­tor works full time to track down dumpers. He is as­sisted by two oth­ers who de­vote part of their time to the is­sue. In his pro­posed bud­get for the agency, County Ex­ec­u­tive Isiah Leggett ( D) does not re­quest more in­spec­tors.

At the Po­tomac site, John M. Par­rish, a botanist and en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist, said the pub­lic funds used to buy the park in 2003 will be frit­tered away by con­tin­ued dump­ing be­cause the trash piles could kill sec­tions of the ecosys­tem.

Un­til re­cently, dumpers had easy ac­cess. A gate to the Pepco right of way was fre­quently left un­locked be­fore a re­porter’s in- quiry.

The ap­prox­i­mately 20 trash piles “ are smoth­er­ing the habi­tat for the na­tive plants and an­i­mals that the land was ac­quired to pre­serve,” Par­rish said. “ The dam­age is the same re­gard­less of whether it is on Pepco prop­erty or park prop­erty.”

Par­rish said he un­suc­cess­fully had pressed the county’s De­part­ment of Park and Plan­ning, which bought the park, to urge Pepco at the time of the pur­chase to clean up the piles.

A plan­ning agency of­fi­cial con­firmed Par­rish’s de­scrip­tion, not­ing that the agency had been re­luc­tant to pres­sure Pepco. It was dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine who had dumped the de­bris, said Do­minic Qu­at­troc­chi, a county plan­ner. The agency was also ne­go­ti­at­ing with the elec­tric util­ity to gain ac­cess for hik­ers to cross Pepco prop­erty to reach part of the park.

“ We were fo­cused on other things,” Qu­at­troc­chi said.

Re­cently, Dil­ima vis­ited the site, then talked with Pepco of­fi­cials. Pepco is work­ing on plans to clean it up, spokesman Robert Dobkin said.

“ Th­ese rights of ways are eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble. It goes on all the time. When we are aware of a ma­jor sit­u­a­tion, we re­spond, and we take care of it,” Dobkin said.

Qu­at­troc­chi said park and plan­ning of­fi­cials do not think, as Par­rish does, that the de­bris is harm­ing the park. He said of­fi­cials plan to visit this spring to fur­ther as­sess the park’s con­di­tion.

At the Ash­ton site, neigh­bor Steven Kansto­room even­tu­ally got a court or­der last year halt­ing the dump­ing af­ter county in­spec­tors came to in­ves­ti­gate but did not cite any­one. “ There are no con­se­quences for vi­o­la­tors,” Kansto­room said.

State and county en­vi­ron­men­tal in­spec­tors re­cently rechecked the Ash­ton site and are let­ting Pepco leave most of the de­bris in place. County of­fi­cials ini­tially had said they would work with Pepco to get the de­bris re­moved. It is made up of about 120 truck­loads of yard waste, wood waste and other items, and at one point spread over nearly two acres. Some of it was pushed down a ravine af­ter Kansto­room com­plained.

“ It’s il­le­gal, but it’s not haz­ardous,” Ed­wards said. Of­fi­cials said they do not plan to test the soil again to check their ob­ser­va­tions.

Kansto­room said he still thinks the Ash­ton dump poses en­vi­ron­men­tal and fire haz­ards and has con­tacted ex­perts who sup­port that view. He said he will con­tinue to press his con­cerns with state and lo­cal of­fi­cials.

County Coun­cil mem­ber Marc El­rich ( D- At Large), who has been try­ing to help Kansto­room, said he is frus­trated with the county en­vi­ron­ment agency and Pepco. “ This should not be en­force­ment by news­pa­per ar­ti­cle.”

PHO­TOS BY PRE­STON KERES — THE WASH­ING­TON POST

A gate to the Pepco right of way, shown in March, was fre­quently left un­locked be­fore a re­porter’s in­quiry. The Pepco prop­erty sits next to an eco­log­i­cal park.

John M. Par­rish, a botanist and en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist, said that con­tin­ued dump­ing could kill sec­tions of the park’s ecosys­tem.

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