During the 1992-93 session, the proposed expansion of the service area of a regional medical waste incinerator in South Baltimore was one of the Baltimore City Council's most hotly contested issues.
Yesterday, two months after the council approved the expansion, the issue flared again.
This time, the forum for the controversy was the weekly meeting of the city's Board of Estimates.
The board voted 4-1 to approve an agreement between the city and Medical Waste Associates to settle civil litigation stemming from the company's illegal acceptance of out-of-state medical waste for an incinerator located in Hawkins Point, near the Anne Arundel County border.
The vote came despite the staunch objections of City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who as president of the Board of Estimates voiced the sole dissenting vote.
Ms. Clarke objected that the agreement contradicted an ordinance passed by the council involving expansion of the service area. Echoing her objections were Councilman Timothy D. Murphy, D-6th, in whose district the incinerator sits, and representatives of the Maryland Waste Coalition.
Under the original legislation that allowed the incinerator to be built, Medical Waste was permitted to accept refuse only from Baltimore City and Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Harford counties. The legislation allowed Medical Waste to dispose the ash in the city.
Medical Waste later told the city that it needed to expand its service area to stay in business, and after a bitter fight, the Council passed an ordinance which allowed the 150-ton-a-day facility to accept refuse from Carroll, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties. The legislation had the backing of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's administration.
The settlement agreement approved by the board yesterday does not allow Medical Waste to use city landfills to dispose of ash generated from the expanded service area. But it does allow the continued use of city landfills to dispose of ash generated from the original service area.
Ms. Clarke, Mr. Murphy and representatives of the Maryland Waste Coalition argued that the agreement approved by the board violated the ordinance allowing the service area to be expanded. Under their interpretation of the ordinance, none of the ash can be disposed of in the city.
Mary Rosso, president of the Maryland Waste Coalition, which opposed the incinerator expansion on the grounds that it would increase pollution in South Baltimore and north Anne Arundel County, told the board, "To me, [the agreement] is a betrayal of trust from the very get-go. This is an illegal agreement."
Mr. Murphy warned that the agreement would "produce a new series of litigation that would be extremely costly for the city."
Ms. Clarke, who unsuccessfully attempted to derail City Council approval of the expanded service area, added, "As far as I'm concerned, the legislation is null and void if we adopt this agreement."
But Mayor Schmoke retorted, "We've had a different view on not only the legal questions but also the policy issues on medical waste. I think this is another example of that."
Meanwhile, Medical Waste president Karen S. Goodhart last month wrote the Board of Estimates that the company had contracted to ship all its ash to a landfill in West Virginia and as of July 10 would take no ash to the city's Quarantine Road landfill. In the letter, Ms. Goodhart reasserted the company's rights to use the city landfill for ash generated by the initial four jurisdictions "if that ever again becomes necessary."