Baltimore's Incinerator Dilemma

March 28, 1992

Just as Baltimore City residents are trying to grow accustomed to a system that has reduced two weekly general garbage collections to one plus a pickup of recyclables, the city's incinerator dilemma is coming to a head.

Newly elected Councilman Perry Sfikas has introduced a bill that would impose a five-year moratorium on incinerators within Baltimore City. Meanwhile, businessman Willard Hackerman wants to sell the aging Pulaski incinerator to a Texas firm, which would construct an even bigger, $200 million facility there to burn trash.

Mr. Hackerman has four more years to go in his current agreement, in which the city guarantees minimum deliveries of garbage and also pledges to shoulder an 85 percent share of improvements, fines and penalties. Meanwhile, the city has a contract lasting until the year 2002 with BRESCO, a second incinerator and rival of Mr. Hackerman.

With citywide recycling now expected to drastically reduce the amount of regular garbage, BRESCO says it alone will be able to handle Baltimore City's burn demands after Mr. Hackerman's contract runs out in 1996. Whether this, in fact, is the case or a mere bargaining ploy is uncertain. But even an expansion of the current BRESCO facility might be more palatable politically than the construction of a brand-new one at Pulaski.

In the next few years the city will need much flexibility to take care of its garbage processing. A blanket five-year moratorium on the "construction, reconstruction, alteration (other than pollution control measures), replacement and expansion" of incinerators would unnecessarily close options. Recycling will not eliminate the need for incineration.

The Pulaski site, because it has all the necessary environmental and zoning permits, is an extremely valuable piece of real estate in a nation where opposition to incinerators has been steadily growing. Yet Mr. Hackerman and the possible buyer, American Ref-Fuel, insist that the terms of Pulaski's current contract be continued if the facility's ownership changes hands. Such a demand, of course, is unacceptable.

The bulk of municipal garbage going to the Pulaski incinerator comes from Baltimore County. The city, in fact, subsidizes the county's tipping fees at Pulaski in order to meet its negotiated raw-garbage delivery quota to the Hackerman partnership. Regardless of what happens to the Pulaski facility, the Baltimore County government ought to recognize that the days of such a sweet arrangement are coming to an end.

Dealing with incinerations may be the city's problem today but it will be the county's headache tomorrow. The Hayden administration should wake up to that fact and develop joint approaches with the city for handling future trash needs.

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