ANNAPOLIS -- Rosedale residents fighting to block a soil recycling plant proposed in their eastern Baltimore County neighborhood have turned to the legislature for help.
Developers and supporters of the plant, however, defended it yesterday as an environmentally sound way to clean up some of the 12 million tons of dirt in Maryland tainted by leaking underground fuel storage tanks.
Environmental Recycling Associates, a subsidiary of Bryn Awel Corp., a Towson pavement manufacturer, wants to build a plant that would reclaim soil contaminated by oil and gasoline. The firm has applied for local and state permits.
But Rosedale community leaders and residents, claiming the project poses a health and environmental hazard, urged a Senate committee to pass two bills that would bar construction of the plant.
"I am all for recycling and a much better environment," Kathy Sotaski told the Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee. But she warned that "things aren't always what they may appear." Civic leaders presented a report they say shows that soil warehoused for treatment at the proposed plant has unsafe levels of lead, a toxic metal. They also contended that a conflict of interest exists because a state official responsible for regulating cleanup of leaking fuel tanks is married to the company's environmental consultant.
But John Cyphers, the firm's president, disputed the community's claims. He said the company ran its own tests on the same soil and found lead levels were within safety limits.
And John Chlada of the Maryland Department of the Environment denied that his agency had a conflict of interest on the project, though he acknowledged that the state needs to tighten its regulation of all soil reclamation plants.
There are 36 soil reclamation plants operating nationwide. Two of them are in Maryland, but four more are proposed. The facilities remove petroleum residues from soil by "cooking" the dirt at about 500 degrees Fahrenheit, then burning off the evaporated contaminants.
One bill would impose a moratorium on building soil reclamation plants statewide until a task force studies their environmental impact.
The other bill, citing the polluting industries already in Baltimore, would ban soil recycling facilities within 10 miles of the city.
The bills drew support from the operator of another soil reclamation plant in Finksburg. George Goodhues of Soil Recycling Technologies Inc. questioned whether more plants were needed now in the Baltimore area, since his facility was operating at only 37 percent capacity.
But some committee members attributed Mr. Goodhues' support for a moratorium as a desire to limit competition. And Mr. Chlada warned that banning soil reclamation facilities may hamper the state's ability to manage its wastes.
State environmental officials plan a more stringent review of all proposed soil reclamation plants, Mr. Chlada said, to be sure that they comply with local zoning plans.