Medical Waste Associates' decision to use its $26 million incinerator to burn out-of-state wastes without city authorization may result in a courtroom showdown to decide whether the Hawkins Point facility will be shut down.
The city Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals recommended Wednesday that the incinerator be closed, but Medical Waste Associates will probably appeal the decision to the Baltimore Circuit Court and ask that it be allowed to operate at full capacity without current city restrictions.
After hearing testimony from the city and Medical Waste Associates on Tuesday, the board upheld the city's denial of an operating permit for the company to use its incinerator to burn medical waste without restrictions.
The city had slapped the company with a municipal zoning violation notice in March for disregarding a city ordinance that restricts the use of the incinerator to testing purposes
and limits the plant to burning waste from hospitals in Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties.
Medical Waste Associates appealed the violation notice March 18 and then applied for a permit to open the incinerator for regular business April 11, according to David Tanner, chief of city zoning administration and enforcement.
City attorneys argued that when the the violation notice was issued, Medical Waste Associates was not yet permitted to operate the incinerator to conduct regular, profit-generating business.
"The MWA from day one has broken the faith of Baltimore," said City Council President Mary Pat Clarke. "It was always understood that the facility was to be limited to local hospitals and doctors' offices."
Medical Waste Associates currently uses the incinerator in Hawkins Point to burn at least 85 tons of waste a day, the minimum amount required for testing, Medical Waste Associates said. But the company argues that in order to sufficiently test
the incinerator, it must test the furnace at its full capacity of 150 tons.
To get enough waste for the tests, the company said, it must supplement local waste with out-of-state material.
The city has no right to interfere with Medical Waste Associates' business with other states, said the company's attorney, Jervis S. Finney.
On Tuesday, Medical Waste Associates asked the U.S. District Court in Baltimore to nullify the restrictions in the city ordinance that limit the incinerator's refuse to the designated areas. Finney called the city's regulation an unconstitutional restriction of interstate commerce.
The plant received its final state approval for operation May 16, but Tanner said the city will still deny the facility an occupancy permit because the facility probably will continue to violate the zoning ordinance.
Zoning board chairwoman Gia Blattermann said the board sided with the city because an ordinance outlining the restrictions had been agreed to by the city and Medical Waste Associates.
Medical Waste Associates must operate by city rules and regulations because it is located in Baltimore, Blattermann said. She added that Medical Waste Associates, which says it still burns out-of-state wastes, has been operating illegally for about a year now.
"Actually there's no just cause why they should be open at this point," she said.
Blattermann suggested that the city enforce the law by imposing the $500 a day fine in the ordinance that regulates the incinerator.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke fought to have the incinerator placed in Baltimore two years ago, hoping to reduce pollution produced by several smaller incinerators.
Neighbors of the Hawkins Point incinerator testified before the zoning board that they have seen incoming waste shipments from Maine, New Jersey and Connecticut.
"Enough is enough," said Melvin Stukes, 43, president of the Cherry Hill Improvement Association. "Any time someone needs a dump site, it's time to come to the 6th District."
Stukes, who lives about five miles from the incinerator, said his district, the largest in the city, is overrun with chemical plants.
Stukes said he hopes to see the city close the incinerator, but does not expect that to happen.