Schmoke's support for waste plan surprises council Incinerator burns medical refuse

October 20, 1992|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Staff Writer

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is throwing his support behind a plan to allow medical waste to be transported to a controversial Hawkins Point incinerator from across the state -- instead of just from hospitals in the city and three surrounding counties.

But the Schmoke administration's sudden change of position on the incinerator -- which has been the subject of a series of lawsuits and an angry outpouring of community opposition -- caught both area residents and City Council members by surprise yesterday.

"It was a shock to me," said Mary Rosso, a Marley Neck resident who is president of the Maryland Waste Coalition, a statewide environmental watchdog group that had opposed the incinerator.

"It was like a bomb was dropped, coming from the mayor. I could not believe the mayor had entered into a serious negotiation with the company and completely betrayed the community."

Acting on a request by the Maryland Hospital Association (MHA), the administration had been expected last night to propose a bill to allow Medical Waste Associates (MWA), operator of the incinerator, to expand the area from which waste could be transported.

But the bill was taken off the agenda at the last minute by Council President Mary Pat Clarke at the request of a perturbed Councilman Timothy D. Murphy, D-6th, whose district includes the incinerator's Hawkins Point Road location.

Mr. Murphy, who has opposed the incinerator, complained that Schmoke administration officials had not briefed council representatives -- or community members -- on the latest plan.

"I used the legitimate protocol issue to defer introduction of this bill for a project that the community remains opposed to," the councilman said.

At present, city law allows 20 hospitals in Baltimore, and Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Harford counties to transport their waste to the incinerator.

But the company now claims it cannot afford to continue operating with a limited amount of waste -- an assertion hospital association officials say could mean the end of a central facility for handling the 67 tons of infectious and non-infectious waste generated each day by those 20 member hospitals.

If that is the case, area hospitals would have to burn their own waste or arrange for the costly alternative of having it shipped out of state, said Frank Monius, MHA vice president of planning.

Peter N. Marudas, Mr. Schmoke's legislative liaison, said "the administration agrees" with the proposal that MHA had brokered for Medical Waste Associates.

"The hospital association has asked for this and . . . feels this is the best way to do it," Mr. Marudas said. Medical Waste Associates "persuaded the hospital association that in order to make it work, that this it what you'll have to do."

MWA Chairman William Boucher III said the proposed legislation was part of a deal struck with the city, in return for withdrawing from a series of legal actions.

Included in the arrangement, Mr. Boucher said, was the company's agreement to discontinue its federal legal challenge to a city law limiting the incinerator's transport area and to discontinue processing out-of-state medical waste, the subject of a city lawsuit pending in Circuit Court.

Mr. Boucher also detailed three reasons for wanting to expand the number of hospitals that process waste at the plant:

* First, the company overestimated the amount of waste that would be generated by the 20 hospitals. In addition, he said, several hospitals that initially agreed to transport waste to the incinerator ultimately did not sign up.

* Second, Medical Waste was left with a $3.5 million bill for unanticipated design changes and problems with the company's building contractor.

* Third, hospitals elsewhere in the state face the same waste disposal problems as those currently burning at his incinerator, and they want in on the arrangement.

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