Opponents of a $26 million Hawkins Point medical waste incinerator have won their day in court.
The state Court of Special Appeals ruled last week that the Maryland Waste Coalition, a Glen Burnie-based environmental group, can sue to stop construction and operation of the incinerator -- located just across the northeastern Anne Arundel line in Baltimore -- under the 12-year-old Maryland Environmental Standing Act.
The Maryland Waste Coalition filed suit in September 1989 after the state Department of the Environment had issued the developer, Maryland Waste Associates, air pollution permits for an incinerator capable of burning 130 tons of infectious medical waste per day.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Thomas E. Noel threw the suit out of court Oct.
23, 1989, saying state law does not allow the Maryland Waste Coalition to appeal the Department of the Environment's decisions to issue air quality permits. His ruling said third parties -- in this case, neighbors of the incinerator -- did not have legal standing to make a challenge.
The Court of Special Appeals reversed that decision Oct. 31, citing the Environmental Standing Act.
"The Legislature has recognized the importance of citizens becoming involved in the environment," wrote Judge Rosalyn B. Bell. "Because of this clear expression of legislative intent, we will remand this case to the Circuit Court."
Macy Nelson, attorney for the environmentalists, said the ruling "is the first time a court has ruled that a citizen group can appeal this type of permit."
Mary Rosso, president of the Maryland Waste Coalition, said "There is no way the law is just when it allows the applicant to appeal a permit decision but not the average citizen. Even if we don't defeat the incinerator, we want that avenue open to appeal other industrial projects which will be as devastating as we think this one will be."
Jarvis Finney, attorney for the developer, said his clients may appeal the recent ruling to the state's highest court, the Maryland Court of Appeals.
Although the environmentalists have claimed last week's decision as a victory, the court ruled against the Maryland Waste Coalition's request for a "trial-type hearing" before the Department of the Environment, said Jeff Howard, an attorney for the state.
"It's far from clear how things will proceed" in Circuit Court, Howard said. The Environmental Standing Act has been seldom used so "there is no history of cases that one can look at."
Nelson said the Maryland Waste Coalition will attempt to convince a judge that the permits shouldn't have been issued in a region already in violation of the federal Clean Air Act.
The Curtis Bay area violates primary air standards for ozone, a poisonous gas, and secondary standards for particulates, dusts that can harm the lungs, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has said. Primary standards are levels that can harm health; secondary standards are levels at which pollution can damage agriculture and buildings.
Meanwhile, construction has been nearly completed and operation could begin in December, said William Boucher, president of Maryland Medical Associates.
"When my client wins, that incinerator will be shut down," Nelson said.