Like airborne pollution that wafts across political boundaries, a controversial plan to build a soil recycling plant in Rosedale has created tension between City Council and Baltimore County Council members.
A quickly passed City Council resolution expressing opposition to the project has embarrassed several Baltimore County councilmen, especially since Dundalk's councilman, Donald C. Mason, D-7th, has steadfastly refused to take a public position on the plant, which would be in his district.
The proposed plant would be built at Todd Lane and Pulaski Highway (U.S. 40). It would accept soil dug up when old underground gasoline storage tanks are replaced as part of a national effort to eliminate underground leaks.
The soil, contaminated with gasoline and oil, would be tested before it leaves the service station where the tanks were removed. If free of toxic pollutants, the soil would be taken to the plant and put into a huge dryer. Fueled by natural gas, the dryer would evaporate the gas and oil. Contaminated dust would be subjected to much higher heat to burn off any gases.
The cleaned soil could be reused instead of buried in landfills with gasoline still in it.
County environmental officials say that if operated correctly, the plant would give off no more fumes than any corner gasoline station. But opponents say the plant could give off fumes equal to 33 gas stations. Residents opposed to the plant also complain that they are already besieged with trash-disposal plants, including the privately owned Pulaski incinerator nearby.
The location of the proposed plant is just one mile from the eastern city line, raising city concern over the project.
Bryn Awel Corp., which would operate the plant, must get both a state and a county permit. The state has not yet scheduled a publichearing.
Residents opposed to the project say they suspect that Mason, a first-term councilman, is secretly in favor of the facility, but afraid to say so publicly. They charge that he is dodging them by failing to appear at public meetings where he thinks they may show up.
Mason denies both charges, however, and says that to take a public position on the plant would constitute interference in the permitting process. Such interference, Mason said, would violate the county charter.
County Council Chairman William A. Howard 4th, R-6th, whose district borders Mason's, also said he "shouldn't get involved in the permit process," and has refused to express an opinion on the project.
County Council secretary and attorney Thomas Peddicord said he knows of no legal prohibition against a council member expressing an opinion on a public issue, however.
Fellow Dundalk politicians aren't as reticent as Mason and Howard. Dels. Louis L. DePazzo, Connie C. Galiazzo and John Arnick are vociferously against the plant, and DePazzo said he thinks Mason should take a stand. "We already have eight of the top 10 polluters in Baltimore County in our district," Galiazzo said of her opposition.
Mason said he failed to appear at City Council President Mary Pat Clarke's office Jan. 9 for a city-county meeting on the plant because his county car broke down. The meeting was attended by Clarke, East Baltimore City Councilman John Cain, D-1st; County Councilman Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-3rd; and four county environmental officials.
Although Mason did not attend a Dec. 17 meeting for constituents scheduled for the Rosedale library, he said he was available in his Dundalk office that night. The Rosedale meeting was canceled because Howard could not attend because of a family emergency, Mason said.
The meeting with Clarke was arranged by Ruppersberger, who said he and Mason were upset that the City Council passed a resolution on a county issue without talking with county leaders first. Cain said he called Mason the day the resolution was introduced and passed, Dec. 9. City Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd, who supported the resolution, later changed his mind and wrote to county officials saying he was misled by inaccurate and incomplete information provided the night of the vote. "I feel assured the county will do right by its communities," Ambridge said.
Ruppersberger, who forged strong ties to the City Council in 1990, when he was County Council chairman, said he wanted to prevent any misunderstandings and preserve good city-county council relations. He said Mason was invited since the facility wouldbe in his district, and to acquaint him with City Council figures. He said Cain and Mason should now discuss the issue, which has aroused residents on both sides of the city-county line.