In a major concession to Marley Neck residents, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. officials last night agreed to a provision in a bill that would require a public hearing before the utility could obtain a grading permit for the disposal of fly ash.
The Coalition of Communities and Citizens Against Fly Ash sought the County Council bill -- and the amendment -- to require BGE to go through a special exception process before it could be granted a permit.
BGE has used the fly ash, a waste byproduct from its coal-fired generators at the Brandon Shores and Wagner Point power plants, as structural fill material on two parcels of land across from the power plant since 1982. It then used the land to build the Brandon Woods I and II industrial parks.
Community groups charge that BGE has reneged on its economic development project and instead intends to use a third parcel of adjacent land as just an ash landfill, with large mounds soon to loom over the surrounding neighborhood. BGE officials say that's nonsense, and that their plans for the third parcel of land are the same those used for Brandon Woods I and II.
BGE had vigorously opposed having to go through the special exception process, saying that it would cause too much delay and expense. But officials dropped the objection at last night's public hearing.
"[BGE officials] concede it's better to have more rather than less public participation," said Edwin A. Lechowicz, a Glen Burnie attorney representing the utility. "The benefits will outweigh the deterrents and we concede that. We agree to that."
But there are other objections BGE has to the bill, such as a provision that would cut in half the seven years it now has to deposit the ash on the property.
The bill "would prevent the use of the property for the deposit of fly ash except in a limited way, so limited that it would make use of the land economically unfeasible," Mr. Lechowicz said.
BGE officials have argued that an inability to dispose of the fly ash could hinder operations at their plant and lead to higher rates.
Carl Hackman, a spokesman for the citizens' group, told the council that a full-page ad taken out by BGE in local newspapers, an ad that showed a photo of the Brandon Woods business park and said, "Find the fly ash in this picture," was misleading.
"It displays all the characteristics which we have come to expect form corporate America, i.e., selective truth, innuendo and veiled threat," Mr. Hackman said.
Passage of the bill, with its requirement for public hearings, is necessary to keep the utility honest, he said.
"There are approximately 2,000 acres remaining in the Marley Neck peninsula," Mr. Hackerman said. "Without legislation to force BGE's hand in terms of alternate disposal methods, one has to question how we can prevent this area from becoming the fly ash capitol of the nation."
The bill, which faces several amendments from council members, is to be considered again at the council's next meeting in two weeks.