Residents and environmental activists claimed another victory yesterday in their battle to shut down a Hawkins Point incinerator when a federal judge upheld a city ordinance barring the plant from burning out-of-state medical waste.
Ruling in the city's favor, U.S. District Judge Frederic N. Smalkin denied an appeal by Medical Waste Associates that charged the zoning ordinance restricted interstate commerce.
The city slapped Medical Waste Associates with a violation notice in March for accepting medical waste from as far away as Maine.
A 1989 ordinance allowing the company to build its $26 million incinerator in South Baltimore limited the operation to burning waste from hospitals in the city and Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties.
Medical Waste Associates appealed the violation notice and asked the federal court in Baltimore to strike the geographic restrictions as unconstitutional.
In his opinion, signed Thursday night, Judge Smalkin found the zoning ordinance didn't restrict interstate commerce because it only affected one section of the city.
Environmentalists and residents from Hawkins Point and the northern neighborhoods of Anne Arundel County hailed his decision as a major step toward closing the controversial plant.
"This gives the city a very large hammer when they go in for their case to shut them down," said Mary Rosso, president of the Maryland Waste Coalition, an environmental group fighting the incinerator.
City officials, who said that the company repeatedly has broken its promises, also were pleased.
"This is a victory for the city," said Ambrose T. Hartman, deputy city solicitor.
Medical Waste Associates contends it has to import out-of-state waste to test the incinerator, which burns up to 150 tons a day.
Company President William Boucher has said that city hospitals generate only half the amount needed for testing, scheduled to end in December. Neither he nor the company's attorney, Jervis Finney, could be reached yesterday.
Mr. Hartman said that the city received no such assurances and feared the company wanted to continue burning out-of-state waste to maximize its profits.
The federal ruling was another setback for Medical Waste Associates, which already was denied an operating permit and lost its appeal to city Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals.
Another appeal of the city's denial of an occupancy permit is pending before the board.
Under the judge's ruling, the city can't enforce the ordinance until the second appeal is resolved, Mr. Hartman said.