Companies squabbling over trash

January 25, 1992|By Timothy B. Wheeler

The owner of the trash-to-energy plant in South Baltimore has apparently sparked a bidding war for garbage now being burned at the controversial Pulaski incinerator in East Baltimore.

George L. Hudnet Jr., regional vice president of Wheelabrator Environmental Services, said Thursday his firm's Refuse Energy Systems Co. plant on Russell Street can burn the city's and Baltimore County's trash more cheaply than a new $200 million plant proposed to replace Pulaski.

RESCO wants city and state permission to expand, Mr. Hudnet said, as well as new long-term agreements with the city and county for trash now sent to Pulaski.

Mr. Hudnet made his proposal public three days after Pulaski's owner briefed City Council members at a closed meeting of his plan to sell the incinerator to American Ref-Fuel Co. of Houston, which wants to build a new, larger facility.

"I hope the city would offer us the opportunity to sit down with them and discuss their real disposal needs," Mr. Hudnet said.

"Our ears are wide open," said George G. Balog, the city's public works director, who said he and other city officials are studying the proposal made this week by Willard Hackerman, general partner of the Pulaski Co., and by American Ref-Fuel.

But Dan L. Jerrems, president of the Baltimore Recycling Coalition, said he hoped the city would reject both incineration options.

"The public wants to recycle," he said. "It doesn't want to burn."

City officials have complained repeatedly that the city is being bled financially by its 1981 deal to sell the Pulaski incinerator to Hackerman's firm. The deal requires the city to pay for 85 percent of the incinerator's operations and maintenance, which now costs the city about $11 million a year. Officials say the city cannot afford to pay for $50 million worth of new pollution controls to bring the 36-year-old plant in compliance with federal air-quality standards by 1997.

Wheelabrator, which failed in its own bid to buy Pulaski from Hackerman, now has tentative plans to add a third burner to the twin-unit RESCO plant, Mr. Hudnet said. That would increase the plant's capacity from 2,250 tons per day to 3,000 tons.

The RESCO plant, which also will have to install up to $100 million worth of new pollution controls by 1996, would be able to burn city and Baltimore County trash now burned at Pulaski for $58 to $68 per ton, Mr. Hudnet said. That's about twice what the localities now pay at RESCO -- around $34 per ton -- but still less than the $75 per ton tipping fee quoted by American Ref-Fuel for its proposed plant.

Robert Wasserstrom, spokesman for American Ref-Fuel, said his firm's plant would be "competitive" in price with "other disposal options."

Even without the proposed expansion, the RESCO plant could burn all the trash the city now sends to Pulaski, Mr. Hudnet said. RESCO has a contract to burn 281,000 tons of city trash per year, but the city fell short of that by 78,000 tons last year. The city now trucks about 60,000 tons of trash a year to Pulaski.

With an expansion, Mr. Hudnet said, his plant also could burn the 115,000 tons of trash from Baltimore County the city now is obligated to supply to Pulaski.

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