Cola plant needs land in Dorsey Up to 15 acres might be bought

August 13, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

Howard County officials are scurrying this week to avoid another Coca-Cola crisis.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker learned "about 10 days ago," he said, that there is not enough room on the company's 122-acre bottling and syrup site in Dorsey to build a 1.25 million gallon-per-day waste-water treatment plant.

As a result, Coca-Cola, the county or both are going to have to buy up to 15 acres adjacent to the Dorsey site to house the plant.

No one is saying what the additional property will cost, and negotiations with developer Donald R. Reuwer Jr. are continuing. Based on what Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. paid the Svatos Co. for the Dorsey site in 1992, the price could run $125,000 or more an acre, or $1.87 million for 15 acres.

When the County Council voted in May to include a $3.5 million Coca-Cola treatment plant in the capital budget, it set aside $525,000 for land acquisition.

Although the county expected the plant would be built on the Coca-Cola property, the money was included in the capital budget as a contingency in case land was needed for environmental purposes.

Based on the 1992 sale, it now appears the land needed could cost nearly four times as much as the $525,000 the county anticipated if all 15 acres are required. If so, the Ecker administration might have to ask the council in September to vote for additional money for the project -- something the county executive hopes to avoid.

"There's a possibility it may not be necessary," Mr. Ecker said. "We're still negotiating about who pays for what." He said the county may get federal funds to help pay for the project.

No comment from Coca-Cola

Katherine Whiting, a Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. spokeswoman, said the company would have "no comment since negotiations are ongoing."

County, state and Coke engineers have been meeting all week to work out design parameters for the treatment plant and to determine how many acres will be needed for it. They are to report their findings today to James M. Irvin, the county public works director.

One reason the process is so involved, Mr. Irvin said, is that this is the first time the soft drink company has combined a bottling plant and a syrup plant on the same site. "There is no comparable facility" anywhere, he said. "It is a new concept."

Corn syrup waste is "stronger" than household effluent and needs particular attention, Mr. Irvin said. County and Coca-Cola officials initially looked at the possibility of Coke paying a surcharge for treating the effluent, but the cost was exorbitant, he said. It was decided to design a facility that would pretreat Coke's waste water, he said. Such a plant would need at least 5 acres, he said, and could require as many as 15.

Designing a plant for Coke's waste water is a challenge, Mr. Irvin said, since there are no prototypes.

Schedule is accelerated

In order to meet Coke's deadlines for the opening of its $100 million bottling and syrup plant, construction of the treatment facility would have to begin no later than next spring, Mr. Irvin said. If additional money is needed for the project, the administration would have to get council approval as soon as possible -- no later than the first legislative session in October.

In an earlier Coca-Cola crisis, council members were told by the Ecker administration in October that unless they moved immediately to reduce Coke's portion of the construction charges for heavy water usage from $6 million to $1 million, there might not be any Coca-Cola plant in Howard County at all.

Although the council met in emergency session and approved the request, council members -- especially Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st -- said they did not like the way the decision was forced on them at the last minute. Ms. Pendergrass had wanted the Coke deal discussed in a regular public hearing.

If asked again, she and other council members say, they will ask hard questions of the administration.

"The first part [granting Coke the $5 million exemption it wanted as an incentive for getting the company to build in Howard County rather than elsewhere] was done in something of a rush," Ms. Pendergrass said yesterday. "Coca-Cola's job is to do what's best for its stockholders. But now that the process has started, we need to do what's best for our citizens."

Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, was also taken aback by the latest development.

"Obviously, I am surprised to learn that we need to purchase additional land at whatever cost," Mr. Gray said. "I would hope the administration would share all the details. It is very important to have Coke in the county and I support their move into the county, but it is also important that we as council members and the public know as much as we can about other possible costs."

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