Leonardtown, MD — The budget reserve fund of the Commissioners of St. Mary’s County has taken a big hit. At the commissioners’ June 28 meeting on a 3-2 vote, they settled a protracted lawsuit by agreeing to pay the plaintiff $7 million from their reserve fund. In exchange the county will get 75 acres of land adjacent to the St. Andrews Landfill.

The case goes back to 2007 when Marcas, LLC, one of the original developers of First Colony in California, filed a $24 million lawsuit in federal district court alleging that methane gas from the St. Andrews Landfill had leaked onto their property in the air and on the ground, rendering it not able to be developed.

As the case worked its way through federal and state courts, the justices decided that in fact the developers land had been made unusable, but threw the case back to St., Mary’s County Circuit Court to come up with a figure for damages. “If we had gone before the court it probably would have cost us more,” said Commissioner President Randy Guy [R].

Commissioners Mike Hewitt [R – 2nd District] and John O’Connor [R – 3rd District] voted against the settlement.

The settlement is expected to eliminate the need for a seven-day trial scheduled to begin Tuesday, July 5.

The commissioners voted at the June 28 meeting to move $3.3 million that was in a capital reserve account into their general fund reserve. The rest of the $7 million will also come from the general fund reserve account.

In court documents, attorneys for Marcas, LLC alleged that “St. Andrews Landfill has been spewing flammable methane onto the surfaces of the plaintiff’s condemned property since at least 2005.” They contended they were not only unable to develop the property in question but they were forced to switch property intended to be developed as commercial into residential, thus losing money as well.

The plaintiff contended in court documents that data from test wells showed that “methane has continued to migrate from the landfill onto the plaintiff’s property for years. These impacts present hazards to human health and the environment and have left the plaintiff’s condemned property unusable for development by Marcas.”

The BayNet contacted St. Mary’s County Government for a report on remediation steps taken at the landfill to contain the methane gas. County Government issued the following statement.

At present, there are  thirty one (31) groundwater monitoring wells, fourteen (14) surface water monitoring locations, and thirty-seven (37) gas probes (17 off-site) associated with the St. Andrews Landfill facility that are sampled and analyzed. Groundwater and gas monitoring is conducted monthly and formal monitoring reports are submitted semi-annually to the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE).

In July 2000, MDE approved the County’s Environmental Monitoring Plan.  In October 2000, the County began a multi-million dollar landfill closure project (approx. $7.5M). The closures were completed in 2001 and 2003. MDE also approved a gas venting system which was initially installed as a passive system and subsequently converted to an active (vacuum) system with a flare (designed to burn off methane gas as it is collected).

A Gas Remediation Plan was approved by MDE in July 2006 and the associated permit to operate the active gas flare system was obtained in December 2006. The collection system and gas flare operate continuously.

In the fall of 2014, the landfill gas extraction system was expanded following the design and approval by MDE. According to the most recent monthly data, all off-site landfill gas monitoring probes are in compliance. Several of the Department of Public Works & Transportation and Recreation & Parks facilities are located on the St. Andrews Landfill property and are monitored for methane gas as a precautionary measure.

Contact Dick Myers at dick.myers@thebaynet.com