Both sides claim converts after visiting Pa. waste incinerator

June 18, 1993|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

A few members of Carroll's committee studying incineration may have changed their minds about burning trash after visiting a waste-to-energy facility near Lancaster, Pa., yesterday.

But both the pro- and anti-incinerator factions claimed converts after the tour.

"I think [the trip] changed a few minds," said Lloyd Helt, chairman of the 23-member committee. "I know of at least one member who previously had some serious questions" but now looks favorably upon waste-to-energy plants.

About 18 members of the committee, appointed by the commissioners in January to study whether Carroll should build a waste-to-energy plant, toured the Lancaster County Resource Recovery Facility in Conoy Township.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell, county administrators, several citizens and reporters accompanied the committee.

The $105 million facility, built on 56 acres and surrounded by farmland, burns about 1,200 tons of Lancaster County trash a day. The operation includes a transfer station where trucks pick up refuse to haul to the facility.

Carroll generates about 450 tons of trash a day and would need a much smaller facility, committee members and county officials said. Some members have debated whether a smaller facility is economical and contend that there are forces at work seeking a regional facility in Carroll.

The Lancaster tour ranged from walking through the facility's tipping area -- where garbage is dumped before disposal into a 55-foot pit -- to driving through a landfill, where trash is mined to burn at the plant. About 20 percent of the trash burned comes from the landfill.

Glenn M. Hoag, facility manager, said the plant -- which produces electricity by burning trash -- generates about $11 million in revenue each year by selling electricity to a local utility. He said about $8 million is needed for operating costs and the remainder finances other trash-disposal programs in Lancaster County.

The county also charges trash haulers a tipping fee of $69 a ton. In contrast, Carroll charges trash haulers $40 a ton, but the fee is expected to rise to meet the costs of maintaining and monitoring the county's landfills.

The Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority opened the plant about two years ago. The county used bond money to build the facility and uses the revenue generated from the sale of electricity to pay off the loan, Mr. Hoag said.

Not every committee member was impressed with the facility, which some county officials have suggested as a model for Carroll.

"I think it has changed people's minds," said Rachelle Hurwitz, one of the committee's co-chairmen. "It's economically irresponsible. There are people [who had been] on the

fence" who are now opposed to doing something like this in Carroll County.

Tom Beyard, the committee's other co-chairman, said he believed the visit -- the first for most committee members -- also changed some people's stances.

"I know of at least one person who changed his mind," Mr. Beyard said, declining to divulge the name of the committee member now opposed to burning trash.

Other members were impressed by the facility but said the visit left the committee with a lot of questions. Commissioners gave the panel 18 months to return with a recommendation on whether the county should build an incinerator.

"I think it adds one more piece of fact to the puzzle," said Melvin Schneider. "We still have a lot of details to find out. Dealing with municipal solid waste is going to have some environmental cost no matter what you do."

Although Ogden Martin Systems of Lancaster Inc., which operates the facility for Lancaster County, spoke about its low level of emissions, Mr. Schneider and others said they remained concerned about environmental impact.

"I'm not convinced about the air emissions," Mr. Schneider said. "But I'd also like to know what emission others -- like landfills and composting -- have, too. I want to give everybody an equal hearing on this."

Arthur Peck called the concept of burning trash to create energy "very feasible."

But he said any waste-to-energy facility must be part of a combination of trash disposal efforts, including landfills, recycling and composting.

Mr. Beyard said the county has not done "a real good job" with pushing recycling. Its current recycling rate is about 14 percent. Many members were surprised that Lancaster County's recycling rate, 24 percent, was not higher.

He said some people who oppose a waste-to-energy plant believe it will thwart recycling efforts.

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