Dayton Rural Preservation Society

Supporting the preservation of rural farmland in HoCo, Md

August Minutes

Task Force to Study Mulching, Composting, and Wood Processing


Approved Minutes


August 13, 2014


Co-chairman Richard Goldman called the meeting to order at 6:05 p.m. in the C. Vernon Gray Conference Room, County Council offices. 


Members Present:  Zach Brendel, Martha Clark, Jeff Dannis, Robert Ensor, Gary Felton, Richard Goldman, Cathy Hudson, Stu Kohn, Rick Lober, Brent Loveless, Theodore Mariani, Lynn Moore, Bert Nixon, Keith Ohlinger, Robert Orndorff, Brent Rutley, Jacquie Sentell.

Others Present:  Cindy Hamilton, Department of Planning and Zoning; Paul Shoffertt, citizen; Jeff Harp, geologist and presenter; Sheila Tolliver, Council Administrator for Jeff Meyers, Task Force staff.


Mr. Goldman asked for corrections to the minutes.  Mr. Orndorff asked that the spelling of his name be corrected.  Mr. Goldman moved approval; seconded by Mr. Felton.  The minutes were approved as corrected.


Mr. Goldman introduced Jeff Harp, a geologist in the environmental industry, who gave a presentation highlighting the potential for the leaching of manganese into the groundwater supply in association with wood processing.  He highlighted data from four sources, as follows:  a New York Department of Environmental Conservation study of twelve mulch and compost facilities, the Bassler Forest Recycling Products site in Howard County, the Oregon State Engineer’s Office and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Pollution, Remediation Division.   Mr. Harp reported that each of these sources found high levels of manganese contaminating groundwater.  He further reported that manganese has been associated with toxicity to the nervous system, causing serious health consequences.  He concluded that resources are insufficient to mitigate damages that may occur and that avoidance of potential manganese contamination is a better approach to ensuring safety in the water supply.

Following Mr. Harp’s presentation, members of the task force posed questions and discussed related issues, including the following points:

  1. Release of metals naturally occurring in the soil is associated with low Ph and insufficient oxygen in the water running through the soils.  Mulch and compost may release acidic water, allowing the leachate to free manganese to travel through the ground to the water supply. 
  2. Regulations controlling Ph content; the surfaces on which the mulching, composting material are stored; site selection; facility design; and management of the facility were discussed as possible ways to reduce the potential for groundwater contamination associated with leachate.
  3. Management practices, such as aeration of the materials and moving of the materials within a relatively short time period were discussed as additional ways to reduce potential adverse effects to groundwater.
  4. The availability of data to demonstrate the safety of sites such as the Alpha Ridge Landfill and Composting facility was debated.
  5. Concerns about enforcement of existing and potential regulations pertaining to water quality, particularly as they may pertain to well water, were expressed.  Some members noted that contaminated water will be malodorous and discolored, alerting homeowners to the need for testing.


An extended discussion followed of the meaning and viability of “farming” in a contemporary context.  Representatives of the farming community and some other members said that farming is an industry; that there is an economic necessity to supplement traditional production of food and animal stock with other activities that may produce higher income; and that dust, noise, truck traffic and other annoyances to neighboring properties are associated with traditional farm products as well as with mulching, composting, and wood processing.  Some members representing neighboring residential properties to farms where these products are or could be produced expressed an interest in differentiating between farmland in agricultural preservation and non-preserved land, an interest in limiting the acreage rather than the percentage of land that could be devoted to the products under study, and concerns about their safety and quality of life.  Ms. Moore noted that the purposes for which preserved land may be used are limited to agriculture, including industrial agriculture.


Mr. Loveless introduced an observation that the county’s favoring transit oriented and dense development in the Savage-Laurel-Elkridge areas has placed densely developed properties in close proximity to those zoned M-1 or M-2 and used for manufacturing.  The higher value of the land for housing and the incompatibility of manufacturing with residential uses have caused a reduction in the proportion of property actually used for manufacturing, creating an impetus for the movement of manufacturing to the western part of the county.  Ms. Hamilton suggested that displacement of manufacturing by dense housing was not anticipated as a consequence of zoning changes associated with Smart Growth.


Mr. Dannis directed the members’ attention to a series of questions and the responses of the Maryland Department of the Environment related to the issues before the task force, which he had distributed by e-mail.


The meeting was adjourned at 8:05 p.m.  The next meeting is scheduled for August 27, 2014.

Task Force to Study Mulching, Composting, and Wood Processing


Approved Minutes


August 27, 2014


Co-chairman Richard Goldman called the meeting to order at 6:11 p.m. in the C. Vernon Gray Conference Room, County Council offices. 

Members Present:  Zach Brendel, Martha Clark, Jeff Dannis, Robert Ensor, Gary Felton, Richard Goldman, Sean Harbaugh, Cathy Hudson, Stu Kohn, Rick Lober, Brent Loveless, Theodore Mariani, Lynn Moore, Bert Nixon, Keith Ohlinger, Robert Orndorff, Brent Rutley, and John Tegeris.


Others Present:  Cindy Hamilton, Department of Planning and Zoning; David Banwarth, presenter; Daniel Merson, Department of Fire and Rescue Services, presenter; Mickey Day, West Friendship Volunteer Fire Department, presenter; Linda Banwarth and James Nickel, citizens, Amanda Yeager, Howard County Times, and Jeff Meyers, Task Force staff.


Mr. Goldman asked for corrections to the minutes; none were offered.  The minutes were approved.


Mr. Goldman introduced David Banwarth a fire protection engineer, who gave a presentation concerning the risks of fires in compost and mulch piles and how those risks might be addressed. Mr. Banwarth distinguished the risks associated with large scale facilities that are not farms from the risks of operations on a farm using materials generated by agricultural and farm-maintenance activities.

Most mulch fires occur spontaneously but some occur due to careless cigarette disposal, arson, machinery faults, and other man-made causes.


Mr. Banwarth reviewed several recent mulch fires and described the difficulties associated with them. Mulch fires are more difficult to deal with and require more fire crew resources if the fires are hard to get to and remote from reliable and ample water sources.  


Although smaller pile sizes can help reduce the resources needed to address mulch fires, smaller pile sizes cannot eliminate the risks.


Howard County has installed and has access to a number of cisterns and dry hydrants in areas outside the metropolitan water district.


Mr. Banwarth considers this approach adequate for residential fires but not adequate for mulch pile fires.


Mr. Banwarth indicated that mulch fires may overstress fire departments, cause air pollution and community stress, and produce contaminated runoff.


The Task Force asked Mr. Banwarth questions and discussed issues related to mulch fires. Proper planning and management of facilities reduces the likelihood of a fire. Mr. Kohn suggested fining those mulch producers whose negligence leads to a fire. On-site availability of large quantities of water would allow for more efficient fire suppression but large water tanks or ponds have engineering or maintenance issues.


Mr. Banwarth indicated that mulch operations should be at least 1 mile from schools or homes, depending on circumstances.


Assistant Chief Merson and Chief Day indicated that prevention is a key goal. To that end, the County has requirements for smaller mulch piles than those allowed by national standards and the County requirements provide for spacing and access. Each operation must have a Fire Prevention Plan that is reviewed with and approved by the Fire Department.  Large operations would be required to have a reliable, certified source of water.  In large operations, additional provisions may apply such as pre-piped dry systems, constant temperature monitoring, or sprinklers.  Early detection, nearby water sources, and ease of access for heavy vehicles are important. The Fire Department wants to work with operators during the planning phase to ensure that fire suppression needs are addressed.

Some property insurance ratings are related to the availability and proximity of fire suppression infrastructure. Mr. Lober suggested that the Task Force examine these matters.


Chief Day noted that recent years have shown great progress. The availability of water in the West is much improved and the County has more equipment including specialized units. The management of mulching operations has improved to make fires less likely.


Mr. Lober and Mr. Loveless encouraged the Fire Department to develop standards that relate pile size to water availability.


Although RLO’s facility in Elkridge is considered to be an excellent operation from a fire hazard standpoint, the recent and on-going construction of housing adjacent to his site is making the site untenable for those operations.  The rezoning to allow for the housing was approved several years after the facility began operating.


Mr. Dannis noted that natural wood waste facility operators are subject to many, often overlapping, regulations from various governmental agencies.


As Ms. Zimmerman was unable to attend due to a flat tire, the Task Force deferred the discussion of agricultural sustainability to the next meeting.


Mr. Dannis and Mr. Loveless are working on computer models of various size facilities that may help provide guidance to the Task Force.


Mr. Dannis invited anyone with appropriate expertise to check formulas and assumptions. Interested members should contact them or Mr. Goldman.


Mr. Ohlinger, Dr. Tegeris, Mr. Goldman, and Mr. Lovelss discussed the difficulty of distinguishing between composting and mulching operations that are related to a farm and those that are not.


The meeting was adjourned at 8:25 p.m.  The next meeting is scheduled for September 10, 2014.

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