Commissioners Debate Joining Waste-to-energy Plan

January 02, 1991|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff writer

The County Commissioners say they are keeping an open mind about joining three other counties in building a waste-to-energy plant, and have not ruled out putting such a plant in Carroll.

"As long as it'snot in my back yard," said Commissioner Elmer Lippy.

He and other commissioners noted the county where such a plant islocated would get some financial assistance from the others and the ash could be buried in another county's landfill.

However, all three said they wanted to learn more, and that the county still would emphasize recycling and composting as much waste as possible.

The ongoing study on how Carroll, Frederick, Howard and Washington countiesmight develop regional solutions to what to do with their garbage will resurface at a meeting Jan. 9.

Staff from each of the counties will discuss the options and their costs before taking the report to commissioners and other elected officials, said Christopher Skaggs, project assistant for the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority,a quasi-state agency conducting the study.

Because of the sensitivity of the issue, Skaggs said, the authority wants to schedule one meeting for elected officials from all the counties to see it at one time, in February at the earliest.

"Any time you talk about landfills or waste-to-energy plants, people get concerned," Skaggs said.

While landfills take up open space and can contaminate ground water, incinerators can pollute the air and are expensive.

Commissioner Julia Gouge said she was especially concerned with the potential air pollution from a waste-to-energy plant, and the increased tipping fee that would result, since a plant would cost more to maintain that a landfill.

But James E. Slater, director of the Department of Natural Resources Protection, said his goal is to avoid building another landfill.

"You can't put a dollar value on that (land), but it's a very real value," Slater said. "Why would you want to take hundreds ofacres of land and dedicate it to just throwing your trash away?"

The study, overdue since summer and still going on, began in June of 1989, and Carroll's split of the bill is $70,000.

Skaggs said the options all include using a combination of landfills, recycling and composting of yard waste. Decisions will be on whether also to includea waste-to-energy plant, and if so, what kind, Skaggs said.

The two kinds are:

* "Mass burn," in which all garbage left over after recycleables and compostables are sorted out gets burned and the resulting steam or electrical energy sold to utility companies.

* "Refuse-derived fuel," in which a plant is built not to burn the garbage,but rather to process it into pellets that can be sold to industriesto burn.

Skaggs said cement companies such as Lehigh Portland Cement in Union Bridge are prime candidates for accepting the waste fuel. Lehigh already is looking into burning waste, and has asked for a permit from the state to burn a type of waste carbon it will buy from other industries.

Slater said a plant to produce the fuel pellets would be very expensive. It must include a machine that sorts out recycleables and metals that can also be sold, to get the maximum financial return.

Such a process would take the burden of sorting recycleables out of the hands of the public. While that might sound good topeople weary of sorting their trash, Slater said it has a disadvantage.

"If you have to sort it, you think twice about how much trash you're generating," Slater said. "At least there would be a tendency to fall into an apathy toward waste in general."

The federal CleanAir Act would require Carroll and the other counties to show they are, and will continue, recycling 25 percent of their trash before getting a permit for a waste-to-energy incinerator, Slater said.

"It makes people think so they don't fall into the trap of relying on the incinerator," Slater said.

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