More Illegal Dumping Along Pepco Lines
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.”
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.