In a rare reversal of their usual positions, community groups in Curtis Bay have welcomed a proposed garbage recycling plant into their heavily industrialized neighborhood -- but the city has blocked the proposal for now.
Environmentalists and community organizers say the $30 million plant, which is proposed for the old Stoker fertilizer facility at 5800 Chemical Road in Curtis Bay, would bring jobs to the area, provide it with a needed drop-off point for recyclable materials and help the city meet its goals of recycling 20 percent of its waste by 1994.
F&E Resources Systems Technology of Laurel would have built and operated the recycling facility, which would have taken up to 700 tons of garbage a day and recycled or composted 95 percent of that.
"It will be the premier recycling facility in the United States," said Ronald Pickett, the president of the company. "How many solid-waste management projects in the country have had local citizen support?"
The plant proposal was the result of negotiations between citizen groups and the company, which had proposed several years ago to put a trash-to-energy incinerator on the site. Curtis Bay community groups opposed that proposal, but they have embraced the new plan.
"With M-3 [industrial] zoning, they can throw anything they want in there," said Mary McGuigan, a local activist.
The recycling plant, she said, "would be one industry at least without smokestacks and a lot of pollution."
The corporation also promised to bring other benefits to the community -- the plant would employ up to 65 people and provide bins for surrounding communities to drop off recyclable trash. Proceeds from local recycling were to have gone to community organizations.
The plant would have been the first in the country to use a process pioneered in Europe that turns waste into soil conditioner by composting it in special concrete vats.
As proposed, the plant would have taken in commercial solid waste and then mechanically spread it on conveyor belts. Workers would hand-sort paper, plastic and metals -- all reusable materials. Those would be baled and sold to recyclers, while non-recyclable items -- such as shoes and office machines -- would be put aside. That residue would go to the city landfill.
Then the remaining organic waste would be composted and sold to farmers and others.
But Mr. Pickett admitted that a late attempt to get around dumping fees at the Quarantine Road Landfill might have doomed the project. The company estimated that it would have to dump up to 35 tons a day at the city landfill.
That angered some city officials, who said the company planned to send its residue to landfills outside Baltimore when the proposal was first discussed in 1989.
Public works officials now say it would be inconvenient to change the landfill's operations to accommodate the company's small-scale recycling.
As an alternative, Mr. Pickett offered to pay the city $10 a ton for its residue, about what the city's two incinerators pay to dump their ash.
The city rejected that offer, too -- saying it would cost the city $350,000 a year to give the company a preferred price. The standard fee is $50 per ton.
"We're not making any more deals," said George G. Balog, the city's director of public works, who added that the incinerators' preferential fees date to the administration of Mayor William Donald Schaefer. "I have a budget to balance."
On New Year's Eve, Mr. Balog met with residents of the Curtis Bay area and said the city couldn't approve the venture.
In any event, he said, Baltimore doesn't need to be importing more garbage.
The company promised to take back from the landfill in recyclable garbage 1 1/2 times the 35 tons it would dump there.
Without the city's commitment, Mr. Pickett said he expected the project's financing from a consortium of Japanese and U.S. companies to dry up. He said that he intended to restructure the project and resubmit it to the city but that the current recession made the project unlikely in the short run.
A disappointed activist, Mary Rosso, said, "We told him that we [Curtis Bay] are always getting dumped on. Then, when we finally see something we want to go to bat on, where we have faith in the company. . . . It's very disheartening."