Pulaski Incinerator's Future

May 14, 1994

When the Baltimore City Council imposed a five-year moratorium on further incinerator construction, few could have anticipated that the emotionally charged issue would be revived so soon. But here is the City Council -- just two years later -- again pondering the explosive question.

The reason is a proposal by the aging Pulaski incinerator's owner, Willard Hackerman. He wants to replace the East Baltimore facility's five polluting furnaces with a new $300 million waste-to-energy plant at no cost to the city.

In fact, he says he'll pay the city $10 million for the privilege. And while waste for the facility would come from throughout Maryland -- but not from outside the state -- the counties using Pulaski would take ash back to their landfills, thereby prolonging the life of the dumps.

We welcome Mr. Hackerman's concept and urge him to develop it into a detailed plan. So far, his idea is little more than a series of press releases. Painful experience shows that's not a very good way to go about building incinerators.

Baltimore's past experience with incinerators -- regardless of ownership -- has been an unending series of disappointments:

* The incinerator that preceded today's BRESCO -- a relatively well-functioning but antiquated waste-to-energy plant -- was an rTC expensive and non-functioning white elephant.

* Mr. Hackerman's original proposal for Pulaski in 1981 painted all kinds of advantages for the city and the owner. Yet the initial plan was repeatedly changed and produced a facility so seemingly offensive that its neighbors revolted and forced the City Council to adopt a citywide moratorium.

* A private medical waste incinerator in Hawkins Point showed that a written agreement is worthless when investors fight to keep themselves from going broke with an ill-conceived project. In this case, a promise not to import waste from outside this region was blatantly broken.

Mr. Hackerman's Pulaski idea is an exciting one. But its details must be thoroughly examined.

The Hackerman concept's regionalism is one of its strengths. But if BRESCO also uses the possible lifting of a moratorium to expand and modernize its incinerator, will this region have enough solid waste to make both of them profitable? This is no empty question: Many of today's incinerators simply cannot get enough garbage to offset their relatively high operating costs.

The City Council clearly needs to establish the basic facts of the solid waste situation before it gives Mr. Hackerman the green light.

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