State seeks to end trash conflicts

December 18, 1992|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,Staff Writer

In a bid to ease bitter community resistance to new landfills and incinerators, Maryland officials have convened secret talks with environmentalists, industry executives and local officials aimed at overhauling the state's policy toward trash disposal.

Proposals for strengthening enforcement of environmental safeguards, boosting recycling and locating new incinerators and landfills have taken shape during at least four days of intense negotiations, participants say.

A final daylong meeting, presided over by a professional mediator from Chicago, is scheduled today at the Maryland Department of the Environment in Dundalk.

Robert Perciasepe, Maryland's environment secretary, would not discuss the 12-point accord that has been drafted, citing an agreement among all parties to withhold comment until the talks are finished.

The goal is to reach a consensus that could ease legal and political battles over solid waste.

The state has been in court for years over a large municipal incinerator in Montgomery County and a regional medical waste incinerator in Baltimore.

A proposed soil-recycling plant in the Rosedale area of Baltimore County also could wind up in court.

Political opposition has killed plans for incinerators in Kent and Prince George's counties, but environmentalists have failed in efforts to get the legislature to impose a statewide moratorium on incinerators.

The talks have been like group therapy at times, with more than 20 people engaging in role-playing games and an "anger-venting" session, participants said.

"It may or may not work," Mr. Perciasepe said of the talks. "At a minimum we will certainly understand each other better."

Some participants said they were encouraged by the talks.

"I have high hopes," said Mary Rosso, president of the Maryland Waste Coalition, a Glen Burnie group that has been fighting the state in court over a medical waste incinerator in Hawkins Point.

The conference participants so far have proposed setting a goal of recycling 50 percent of the state's trash by 1996. Current state law calls for recycling 20 percent by 1994. Tougher enforcement of air and water pollution laws and guidelines for locating new landfills and incinerators -- including establishing land "buffers" between them and residential neighborhoods -- also have been discussed.

Last year Maryland recycled 10 percent of its 5.1 million tons of solid waste, according to the Environmental Almanac. The state burned 17 percent of the waste and put 73 percent in landfills.

Ms. Rosso, who helped line up representatives of 10 community groups from around the state, said that environmentalists will not drop opposition to incinerators and landfills even if an accord is -- reached.

"Nobody is going to accept an incinerator, a prison or a landfill," said Ms. Rosso, but opposition might be less intense if citizens could be assured that the state was vigorously monitoring and enforcing laws regulating the facilities.

Ken Wishnick, a vice president for Browning-Ferris Industries Inc., a national waste management company, agreed. "I don't think there'll ever be an end to disagreements over local siting of [trash] facilities," he said. "But working together we can certainly make the process more painless."

Kris Hughes, associate director of the Maryland Association of Counties, said, "Any time you can break down the barriers of 'us and them' . . . it can only help."

But Mr. Hughes said that differences remain over portions of the draft accord. He would not identify those issues.

Participants seemed to differ on whether legislative action or new state regulations would be needed to carry out the proposals agreed to so far.

Jerry Hersl, leader of a group of Rosedale residents fighting a soil-recycling plant in their neighborhood, said, "I think everyone agrees there needs to be some [policy] framework on solid waste management in Maryland." But he added that if the talks do not lead to legislative and regulatory reform, "we wasted everyone's time."

The model for the talks, called a "charrette," was a similar marathon session 10 years ago to settle disputes over cleaning up the Patuxent River. That meeting led to the settlement of a lawsuit threatening to halt development along the river and presaged the first Chesapeake Bay restoration agreement signed in 1983.

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