Plan to rebuild Pulaski Highway incinerator praised

February 02, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

The proposed rebuilding of Baltimore's environmentally troubled Pulaski Highway incinerator could be an "answer to a prayer" for Howard County's trash disposal problems, County Executive Charles I. Ecker says.

Although the city is only two years into a five-year incinerator construction moratorium, an agreement backed by Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and made public last week would allow the Pulaski Co. to remain on its Baltimore property and try to build a new facility.

The company has said it wants to replace the 38-year-old plant with a $200 million regional incinerator, the kind of facility that Howard County officials were hoping would become available -- outside the county.

A key component of a 10-year waste management plan unveiled last month by Mr. Ecker would set aside space in the county's one operating landfill for ash from a regional incinerator.

The plan also provides for a privately run yard-waste composting facility near Lennox Park near Elkridge.

"I think it would be tremendous, not only for Howard County, but for the entire region," said Mr. Ecker of the possibility of a new regional incinerator being built.

With a new facility, Baltimore's second incinerator near Camden Yards and the small incinerator serving Harford County, the region's nonrecyclable waste disposal needs would be met, Mr. Ecker said.

If the city's five-year moratorium on incinerator construction can be overturned and a new Pulaski facility built, it could spare Howard and other Baltimore-area counties the difficulty of choosing a site for a regional incinerator.

The prospect of being the host county for a regional incinerator prompted Carroll and Frederick counties to drop out of a regional waste consortium for Western Maryland counties in 1991.

In neighboring Anne Arundel and Carroll counties, officials are seriously considering the possibility of building incinerators to burn trash and generate electricity.

The prospect of a new Pulaski incinerator "could probably only be construed as good news" for Anne Arundel, said county government spokeswoman Louise Hayman.

"If they're looking for customers, it would be nice if we could have that opportunity. The more options and the more different kinds of options that any county has, the better off they are," Ms. Hayman said.

Carroll County Commissioner Donald I. Dell said the possibility of a new incinerator in Baltimore could have some bearing on the county's current waste planning.

Baltimore County does not have an incinerator of its own in its year-old solid waste plan, and has the more immediate problem of the possible shutdown of the current Pulaski facility -- which takes one-third of the county's residential waste.

Considering the pollution-controlling technological advances that have been made in waste-to-energy plants, Howard County Councilman Paul Farragut said, "Conceptually, to my mind, [the Pulaski plant] seems an attractive way to go" after the county has recycled and composted as much as possible.

Howard's 10-year solid waste management plan, expected to be introduced as a proposed council resolution Monday, calls for recycling and composting as much waste as possible, and joining with other jurisdictions to find a way of disposing of the remaining waste.

But until a regional plan is worked out, the county would seek a private contractor to ship the waste out of the area. Shipping would begin after construction of a waste-transfer station, which is expected to take about two years, and continue for about three years.

Nancy Davis, a Howard County resident and a state lobbyist for the Sierra Club, said she doesn't think that will be enough time.

"There's no way that they'll have an incinerator on line by then," she said.

Ms. Davis also emphasized her group's concern that byproducts of incinerators could be toxic. County officials counter that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not classified incinerator ash as toxic.

The Alpha Ridge Landfill is expected to fill up in 2008 if the county doesn't change its waste management policy. If the facility is converted to handle ash, it could last several more decades, officials predict.

Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, a 3rd District Democrat, said a new incinerator might make it easier for the county, but cautioned that any waste solution will come at a price.

He said that Mayor Schmoke and City Council President Mary Pat Clarke seemed receptive to the idea of taking county waste for incineration in the city.

"Obviously, there is a quid pro quo. I don't know what that will be," Mr. Gray said.

Ms. Clarke said it's too soon to speculate on the likelihood of a new incinerator or a regional solid waste plan.

For regional cooperation, she said, "So far, we do it all. Not so much for Howard County, but for Baltimore City and Baltimore County."

Ms. Clarke acknowledged that the city needs at least some of what the county has to offer.

"We have a composting facility," Ms. Clarke said. "What we don't have is landfill space."

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