Pulaski incinerator may be sold Trash-to-energy plant would be built on the site.

January 23, 1992|By Michael A. Fletcher and Timothy B. Wheeler

The owner of the Pulaski incinerator wants to sell the plant to another firm that would build a $200 million trash-to-energy plant on the East Baltimore site.

Willard Hackerman, general partner of the Pulaski Co., which owns the incinerator, outlined the proposal to City Council members at a closed meeting earlier this week.

But the briefing did not seem to impress several City Council members.

"We told him to go to the community before he comes to any political body," said Councilman Perry Sfikas, D-1st.

Under the proposal, Mr. Hackerman's firm would sell the incinerator to American Ref-Fuel Co., a Houston firm.

American Ref-Fuel would then construct a waste-to-energy plant capable of burning 450,000 tons of trash a year -- larger than the 330,000-ton capacity of Pulaski.

The new plant would generate enough electricity to power 25,000 homes, said Robert Wasserstrom, a spokesman for American Ref-Fuel.

American Ref-Fuel is not asking the city to help finance the deal, but the firm is looking for a 25-year commitment from the city to continue supplying 176,000 tons of trash a year, said Richard L. Oliver, American Ref-Fuel's vice president for project development. The firm also wants to continue existing agreements to lease the city-owned site and a reduced fee to dump the plant's ash -- up to 150,000 tons a year -- in the city's Quarantine Road landfill.

Under the current deal with Pulaski, the city pays 85 percent of Pulaski's operating costs and capital improvements, and spends about $11 million a year on the plant, said Council President Mary Pat Clarke. If the new plant is built, the city would not be obligated to pay to operate and maintain it.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Public Works Director George G. Balog yesterday said they are considering the proposal because they see it as a possible way out of a costly deal between the city and the Pulaski Co.

They also say a new plant would be more environmentally sound than the 36-year-old Pulaski incinerator, which has been cited repeatedly in recent years for air and water pollution violations.

"I'm not ready right now to commit myself to any particular deal for future use of the site," Mr. Schmoke said.

"But, as I have said repeatedly, the current deal is bad for the city."

Under a 1981 agreement between Mr. Hackerman's firm and the administration of then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer, the city is locked into the deal until 1996.

Mr. Hackerman, a staunch political backer of Mr. Schaefer, bought the plant from the city for $41 million in 1981.

But in 1989 alone, the city paid $10 million to burn 60,000 tons of residential trash at Mr. Hackerman's incinerator -- a disposal fee of $166 a ton. That is more than four times what the city pays to dispose of trash at the RESCO plant in southwest Baltimore.

Mr. Balog said that getting out of the deal now would allow the city to avoid paying for $50 million to $70 million in new air pollution controls.

He also said that the city would negotiate to get out of the deal with the Pulaski Co. before the new plant goes into operation.

Dan L. Jerrems, president of the Baltimore Recycling Coalition, said he is opposed to the idea of a new incinerator.

"It'll kill recycling," he said. "Pulaski needs to be shut down because it's an environmental nightmare. But the answer is not to replace it with another incinerator."

Mr. Schmoke, however, said the city needs another incinerator even as recycling assumes a larger role. "Pulaski is in our overall waste management plan for the future," he said. "There has to be some incineration component."

American Ref-Fuel Co. has signed a letter of understanding with Mr. Hackerman to negotiate the purchase of the Pulaski incinerator, Mr. Oliver said.

No price has been agreed upon for buying the plant, he said. But he said the new plant would be owned and operated solely by American Ref-Fuel and that Mr. Hackerman would have no ownership interest in the new facility.

Tentative plans call for breaking ground on the new facility early next year, Mr. Oliver said, adding that Pulaski would continue to operate until American Ref-Fuel's plant is finished in 1996.

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