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February 4, 2008

Trash, Manure, and Politics

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

No, the title of this piece is NOT a game of “which of three things is not like the other,” mostly because the differences are so insignificant.

First, I had a case of déjà vu earlier this week. The Stup family farm, located just outside of Walkersville, had a serious problem with a liquid manure retention tank. A pipe burst, and a pump that pushes liquid manure out of the pit for spreading onto fields continued running. This resulted in it running into a waterway, and potentially contaminating the Walkersville water supply aquifer.

This has happened before. Last time, it was a residential developer in the process of building new houses. Then, it was a sewer line, and septic sewage ran directly into the water supply.

There are two ways to look at this. Number one, we can point the finger of blame at the person(s) responsible and attack them personally.

The anguish on Jimmy Stup’s face as he wrestled with his public “confession” was palpable through the one dimension of the News Post front page. Do we want a person to hold accountable, a tangible source of our blame and scorn?

If so, then we need look no farther than a family that has spent their lives toiling to scratch out a modest living on their farm.

The other way to view this to see that this was a horrible accident, an unforeseen circumstance that was simply unavoidable. Instead of rushing to punish the Stup family, maybe this ought to be a moment of celebration.

No, that doesn’t mean we should celebrate thousands of gallons of spilled liquid manure. The celebration should be for the rapid and coordinated response of the water infrastructure, for a system designed to react to an emergency or accident that insures that potable water can flow into Walkersville.

Back in 1999, Walkersville’s burgess contacted Frederick Mayor Jim Grimes. The two municipal leaders did what chief executives do; they solved the problem. Working with a very capable and creative assistant city engineer named Holtzinger (yeah, that guy), City Public Works Director Fred Eisenhart, and county water/sewer guru Michael Marschner, a temporary water line was run from a Frederick City connection up to Walkersville.

Problem solved, disaster averted, and life-sustaining water flowed into Walkersville. We’re seeing that same model, already road-tested and certified, being employed again to provide for the needs of Walkersville.

So, instead of attacking the Stup family, let’s celebrate that when an emergency arises, we have the political foresight of Whitmore/Grimes and the technical competence of Eisenhart/Holtzinger/Marschner to solve the problem.

Now, let’s talk a little trash. The Frederick delegation to the General Assembly approved a bill enabling the Frederick Board of County Commissioners to enact a trash franchising system. The commissioners will be able to designate collection areas for haulers throughout the county to work within.

Many people were opposed, some because they like their hauler and don’t want to have to change; some because their hauler suggested they be opposed and they didn’t know better; and some were opposed simply because they don’t trust the commissioners. I get that.

The commissioners have requested this because:

1.) They will enact curbside recycling countywide. This franchising method appears to be the only way to do that. 2.) They believe it will reduce truck traffic. 3.) They believe it could save customers as much as $10 per month on their trash collection costs.

This whole thing is a huge leap of faith, and five members of the eight member delegation have made the jump. The commissioners promised that the delegation will be informed of the program details prior to enactment; but that depends on trust, and trust is a fleeting commodity between both bodies today.

And that brings us around to politics. The level of trust between the municipal leaders, the county commissioner, and the legislative delegation is at an all time low. Name-calling, finger-pointing, and threats of retaliation are both counterproductive and childish.

Municipal leaders are questioning the veracity and motives of the commissioners; the commissioners are calling their municipal partners liars; and the delegation is considering a bill to alter how the commissioners handle their routine business.

It may be time to borrow the World Wrestling Entertainment’s steel cage, and settle this thing once and for all. Nothing else seems to work!

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