Tough questions on incinerators

January 24, 1992

Willard Hackerman wants to sell the Pulaski incinerator. This offers Baltimore City a long-awaited opportunity to rearrange the way much of the regional waste stream is being processed.

In 1981, when a partnership headed by Mr. Hackerman bought the aging Pulaski incinerator for $41 million from then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer, it got one heck of a deal. The city agreed to shoulder most of the costs of running the facility, including what now is an 85 percent share of improvements, fines and penalties.

That is not all. The city is also subsidizing Baltimore County's tipping fees at Pulaski in order to meet its negotiated raw-garbage delivery quota to the Hackerman partnership. Meanwhile, the city, with its shrinking population, also is delivering less than it guaranteed at the BRESCO trash-to-energy incinerator on Russell Street.

As municipal recycling programs expand, the amount of garbage requiring incineration will plummet further. Unless both BRESCO and the Pulaski site begin hauling garbage for burning from a larger geographical area, there is no need for an expansion at either location. Yet the Houston-based firm wanting to buy Pulaski from Mr. Hackerman's partnership says it plans to replace the existing Pulaski facility with a $200 million trash-to-energy plant and increase the plant's capacity.

We urge Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and the City Council to handle this issue with considerable care.

Where will the additional waste come from? The two giant incinerators already burn government-generated waste from Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Meanwhile, a private recycling plant under construction at Hawkins Point has a capacity of processing 300 tons of trash a day.

The city faces steep contractual costs in retrofitting and modernizing both the Pulaski incinerator and BRESCO to meet stricter air-quality standards. This is not the city's problem alone. Baltimore County also has obligations to participate in some of these costs. For that reason, Baltimore City should develop its approach toward the proposed changes at Pulaski in close cooperation with the Hayden administration in Towson.

Incineration is an essential component of a comprehensive garbage removal process. Recycling may decrease the need for incineration but does not eliminate it. If there is, indeed, a need for additional burning capacity, city officials have to find out if it justifies a new, high-capacity incinerator. This ought to be the starting point for the debate over proposed ownership changes at Pulaski.


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