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Crush of Brush Leaves Counties Buried in Mounds of Mulch After Isabel

By Sofia Kosmetatos
Capital News Service
Friday, Oct. 3, 2003

WASHINGTON - Anne Arundel County is in deep chips.

Trash workers picked up more than 10,000 tons of brush that was blown down by Hurricane Isabel. Now, the county has thousands of tons of mulch, after it decided to shred the limbs rather than bury them in the Millersville landfill.

Some of it will be spread on county facilities, some will be given away to a composting company, and county residents are free to come and scoop up as much as they want. It may not be as nice as mulch they would buy at the store, but it's free.

"We're not into quality, we're into quantity," said Robert DeMarco, operations manager at the county landfill where mulch piles have grown as high as 20 feet.

Across Maryland, local governments that finished up the first stages of the cleanup are now dealing with the brush they picked up. Many, like Anne Arundel, are making mulch. Others are branching out.

St. Mary's County officials said they have set up temporary sites to burn the brush and yard waste. Montgomery County is burning some of its brush at its incinerator, as well as chipping some and composting.

Dorchester County officials said they just shoved the trees and limbs to the side of the road and are only now going out to pick up what they have to.

Anne Arundel County officials got on the mulch train early.

The county's Bureau of Waste Management cleared space at the Millersville landfill in anticipation of the brush rush and brought in out-of-state contractors from as far away as Ohio and West Virginia to help in the cleanup. The contractors brought 10 trucks equipped with chippers to temporary waste collection sites, which augmented three chippers at the county's permanent sites.

"It was nice having a week's preparation time for Isabel," DeMarco said.

Pam Jordan, spokeswoman for the county's Bureau of Waste Management, said this is the most brush she has seen in her 24 years with the county. Hurricane Floyd, which struck in 1999, yielded 10,000 tons of brush by the time the cleanup was done -- but Jordan said there are still days to go until the Isabel cleanup is complete.

In addition to the thousands of tons at Millersville, DeMarco said the county had another 432 tons of mulch at its southern facility in Sudley.

While residents are welcome to take it for use in gardens or in landscaping projects, gardening experts warn that fresh mulch may do more harm than good.

When aged and applied correctly, mulch adds nutrients to soil, helps to regulate soil moisture and temperature and helps keep weeds from growing in it. But fresh mulch heats up and uses up nitrogen, depleting -- instead of nourishing -- soil, said Dave Clement, director of the Home and Garden Information Center at the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension.

To guard against this, Clement recommends letting fresh mulch sit until next spring, when it can be applied safely.

At the Millersville landfill, the time mulch is aged varies, depending on the season and rainfall. Residents are advised to compost mulch for at least one month before using it.

The county-ground mulch is likely a little chunkier than Home Depot's: To clear brush away quickly, mulch is ground just once, with screens that don't always filter out branches. But DeMarco said it will still do the job.

"What's left is perfectly fine mulch," he said.


Copyright 2003 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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