City seeks new deal on trash plant

September 14, 1990|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Evening Sun Staff

City officials are attempting to renegotiate a long-standing deal with owners of the Pulaski Incinerator, after a consultant's .. report found that operation of the trash burning plant places "a major economic burden on the city."

And that burden is likely to grow significantly soon, as the plant adds equipment to comply with tightening environmental standards.

Even as the cost of burning trash at the aging plant goes up, the report says, the "state-mandated recycling program may eliminate the need to use the Pulaski Incinerator."

The report's findings are under review by city officials, who are using it as the basis of a request to rework the deal locking the city into using the privately owned plant until 1996.

"Financially, it is an extremely bad deal for Baltimore City," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday.

Schmoke and Public Works Director George G. Balog said the city is attempting to renegotiate the deal with Willard Hackerman, the general partner of the Pulaski Co., the partnership that bought the incinerator from the city in a no-bid deal in 1981.

"We want to renegotiate the agreement, and Mr. Hackerman ilistening," Balog said. "The concern is the fact that the incinerator is placing a heavy financial burden on us."

Balog added that Pulaski Co. officials are disputing some of the claims in the report. Hackerman, however, could not be reached for comment. And his lawyer, Max Stul Oppenheimer, declined comment.

Under a 1981 disposal agreement struck between Hackerman's firm and the administration of then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer, the city is obligated to pay for 85 percent of the plant's operating costs plus capital improvements.

Hackerman, a staunch political backer and civic trouble-shooter for Schaefer over the years, bought the plant from the city for $41 million in 1981.

But in 1989 alone, it cost the city $10 million to burn 60,000 tons of trash at Hackerman's incinerator -- a disposal fee of about $166 per ton, the report said.

"The tipping fee at Pulaski is at least three times higher than it is at BRESCO [Baltimore Refuse Energy Systems Co.]," Balog said.

The high cost of disposing of trash at the site actually leads to the city subsidizing the disposal of Baltimore County trash burned at the incinerator, the report says. Under an agreement with the city, the county burns 115,200 tons of trash a year at the plant, the report says.

The city pegged the fee for that trash disposal to the disposal rate at the BRESCO plant, the report says.

nTC "However, the BRESCO rate is now below the actual tipping fee cost at Pulaski," the report says. "The balance of the county's fee obligation must be paid by the city."

The Pulaski report was put together by a firm called Gannett Fleming/Heery, under an agreement with the city. The firm's investigation included review of city records, visits to the incinerator and a review of records from the Pulaski Co.

"During the study, very little of the information from Pulaski was made available," the report says.

Nonetheless, the report concludes that capital costs at the incinerator are likely to spiral soon because of stiffening environmental standards.

The 39-year-old plant is likely to have to add equipment or facilities to remove acid gas, provide continuous emissions monitoring and separate recyclable materials from the trash it burns, the report says.

The total cost of the air emissions control equipment is $35.4 million, the report says. And waste water pretreatment equipment is projected in the report to cost $1.7 million.

The report also found that the Pulaski Incinerator is not in compliance with current environmental standards. Moreover, it says, waste water discharges to the city's sewer system create maintenance and sludge quality problems. And ash from the plant is wetter and, consequently, more plentiful that it should be, according to the report.

"The tonnage of Pulaski residue disposed at the [Quarantine Road] landfill exceeds the tonnage of city waste processed at Pulaski," the report says.

Balog said that the report makes it clear that the city must try tadjust its deal with Hackerman's firm.

"I think the report substantiates the fact that we got a bad deal," Balog said.

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