Incinerator takes a step toward permit expansion Request receives planners' approval

February 26, 1993|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Staff Writer

The owners of a controversial incinerator on Hawkins Point Road narrowly cleared their latest hurdle last night when the Baltimore Planning Commission recommended expanding the area from which medical waste could be collected.

After a grueling six-hour hearing of testimony from a parade of owners, area hospital representatives and angry opponents, the eight-member panel recommended that the City Council approve a bill that would add four more counties to the list of areas permitted to send medical waste to the plant.

"No wonder people feel disenfranchised from government," said Councilman Timothy D. Murphy, D-6th, who has championed the fight against the incinerator and expansion of the plant, which is located in his district.

"The board members heard extensive testimony that created significant doubt and apprehension as to the propriety and necessity of going forward at this time," Mr. Murphy said. "After ,, all the testimony, I really thought the community had a chance of persuading the commission to substantially amend or defer action. I'm surprised the board acted."

Currently, only Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties can legally send waste to Medical Waste Associates' Hawkins Point incinerator. The bill would add Montgomery, Prince George's, Carroll and Howard counties to the list.

The commission vote, in keeping with the Planning Department's staff recommendation, was 4-0 in favor of the bill, with two abstentions and one member absent. Four affirmative votes are required for approval. The chairman votes only in cases of a tie.

But the next hurdle for Medical Waste Associates may not be so smooth.

One of the members who abstained was Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd, the council's representative on the commission and also chairman of the Land Use Committee, which will hold its own hearings on the bill.

"There are too many unanswered questions on this thing," Mr. Ambridge said, referring to environmental and health concerns. "I'm not going to announce a hearing until I get some answers."

Officials of Medical Waste Associates and the Maryland Hospital Association -- whose members have contracts with the firm -- maintain that the incinerator needs more business because it is losing money.

Initially, company officials expected the incinerator to receive 63.2 tons of waste daily from its authorized area. Officials believed that by the second year of operation, this year, the plant would have been handling 80 tons to 85 tons a day -- an amount estimated to generate $7 million a year in revenue, enough to pay off company start-up loans and turn a profit.

But company officials maintain that while they finally began taking in 63.2 tons a day in July, other unexpected costs require that they take in more waste -- or face the possibility of shutting down.

That would leave 21 hospitals that have 20-year contracts with the incinerator with no affordable way to handle the estimated 70 tons of waste a day they generate.

Medical Waste was convinced Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke last year that the only way the plant could survive was by expanding the area from which waste could be taken.

The latest bill, introduced at the Schmoke administration's request, is a scaled-down version of legislation withdrawn after vehement community opposition. That bill would have allowed the incinerator to accept waste from the entire state.

"How far do you go to bail somebody out?" asked Mary Rosso, president of the Maryland Waste Coalition, a group that lost a lawsuit to stop construction of the incinerator.

"My object is to kill this bill," said Ms. Rosso, who lives in Glen Burnie, near the site.

Doris E. McGuigan, a Curtis Bay resident representing several groups, said there was enough industry in that area of South Baltimore, linking a high cancer rate and high infant-mortality rate to the industry.

"There's a common thread here that no one is picking up on," Ms. McGuigan said. "We're the guinea pigs here."

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