County Officials Weigh Options On Stinky Property

SNOW HILL — While concerned about a strong and disruptive odor coming from a property where a large amount of creosote is being stored, the Worcester County Commissioners admitted Tuesday that little in the zoning code could be used to force the property owner to fix the situation.
A significant amount of “pressure treated wood scraps, creosote poles and other timers from the re-construction of the Ocean City Boardwalk” have been collected at a Mary Road property and stored within a limited area. This has resulted in an odor emanating from the property and disturbing neighbors. It’s a nuisance, said Ed Tudor, director of Development Review and Permitting. But it’s the kind of nuisance that the county Code of Public Local Laws doesn’t specifically address.
“Unfortunately, I do not believe we have any rock solid provisions in the Code for the odor issue associated with the creosote lumber,” wrote Tudor in a memo to the commission.
As overwhelming as the smell can be, the Code doesn’t technically consider odor a nuisance. The Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) was brought in to determine whether the creosote pile could be labeled as hazardous, but MDE decided that as long as the lumber was neatly stacked there was no violation.
Without state backing, the county will have a hard time forcing the property owner, Reggie Mariner, to do anything. Legally, Worcester doesn’t appear to have much recourse, said Commission President Bud Church.
“That’s my question. MDE said that he’s in compliance, there’s nothing he can do. We can’t tell him he can’t own it, we can’t tell him he can’t buy it,” Church said. “The odor, I wouldn’t want to be his neighbor but if you live next to a chicken house you have odor and we can’t tell them they can’t have odor. I’m just wondering where the law comes in that says we have the authority to do anything.”
The county might not have many options, but something needs to be done for the sake of the neighbors, asserted Commissioner Jim Bunting. So far Bunting has received four calls complaining about the odor issuing from the property and visited the site personally on a particularly hot day weeks ago.
“It was awful. It was just like you were sitting in a pile of tar,” he said.
Bunting also fears that despite MDE’s lack of concern, the extended storage of so much creosote in a confined space could become hazardous.
There might not be an abundance of legal options, but Tudor believes that the county has recourse. He suggested labeling the property a nuisance on the grounds that it negatively affected health and safety conditions as well as property values. The county could then hold a hearing and discuss the issue further with Mariner.
“I’m sure Mr. Mariner will request a hearing and I’m sure he’ll be able to tell you why he thinks he needs to keep it,” Tudor wrote. “But those are the legal steps that I would view that we would have to go through.”
Church remained unconvinced.
“I don’t mind trying to help solve the problem but I don’t want to get on a legal slippery slope,” he said.
County Attorney Sonny Bloxom opined that Tudor’s suggestion was legally justifiable, however, and pointed out that Church’s argument about how Worcester doesn’t interfere with chicken house odors is covered under the county’s “right to farm” law. That law would not extend to cover the creosote storage on Mary Road.
Commissioner Judy Boggs suggested holding off any decision until the county can send some health officials or land appraisers to the property to compile more information for a potential hearing. The commission voted unanimously to do so.