City environmentalists, seeking to make the long-standing controversy over the Pulaski incinerator an election issue, staged a rally at the plant's gate yesterday to demand its shutdown.
Displaying two bins full of barely burned debris they said came from the incinerator's ash, members of the Baltimore City League of Environmental Voters vowed to elect a "working majority" on City Council that would seek to close the incinerator, which has been cited repeatedly in recent years for air and water pollution violations.
"This incinerator has been burning improperly from the day they opened it up, and our elected representatives have not done a thing about it," said Joseph Longo, of the Frankford Improvement Association. "I say shut it down."
Eleven of the 18 candidates endorsed by the league showed up for the rally and promised to work to end the city's costly contracts to underwrite the incinerator's operations and maintenance, which cost the city $6 million to $8 million a year, said George Balog, city public works director.
"There's no other solution but to close it down, to save the taxpayers money," said Councilman Nicholas D'Adamo, D-1st, who said that he has seen neighborhood cars coated with ash, presumably from the Pulaski Highway incinerator.
Absent from the rally was Mayor Kurt Schmoke, one of the environmental league's endorsees, who has been stymied so far in his bids to renegotiate the city's deal with the owners of the incinerator, a partnership headed by construction magnate Willard Hackerman.
Balog said that although the mayor would like to shut Pulaski down, the costs of breaking the city's contracts with the incinerator or buying the facility are too great. He suggested that it might be more "realistic" to encourage Hackerman to sell the trash burner to a third party, who would upgrade the plant and agree to less onerous terms for the city.
Hackerman has been negotiating a possible sale of his incinerator to Wheelabrator Inc., the national waste firm that operates the BRESCO trash-to-energy incinerator on Russell Street, said Balog.
The city sold the Pulaski incinerator to Hackerman's group in 1981, when Gov. William Donald Schaefer was mayor. The city has promised to supply the facility with city and Baltimore County trash and to underwrite 85 percent of the capital and maintenance costs.
"We just cannot afford it," Balog said, noting that the incinerator may be required to install new air pollution controls soon, at a cost of more than $50 million, most of which the city would have to pay. The facility has paid $40,000 in fines for air and water pollution violations in the past two years.