Trashing Regionalism

June 09, 1994

For evidence of how miserably local officials have failed at finding regional solutions to regional problems, look no further than the current debate over Baltimore's five-year moratorium against incinerator construction.

The City Council is considering lifting the ban after only two years. The main purpose of this action would be to allow Willard Hackerman to tear down his troubled Pulaski Highway incinerator and replace it with a larger, state-of-the-art trash burner. Some city officials, including Mayor Kurt Schmoke, like the idea because it would spell good riddance to the polluting Pulaski facility. They also like Mr. Hackerman's offer to give the city $10 million and a cut of the operation's profits.

But the facility, still in the hazy planning stages, won't make a nickel unless it has enough garbage to burn. On that point, Mr. Hackerman says he has no commitments from the leaders of neighboring jurisdictions, though he expects his new plant to take trash from Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll and Howard counties. Yet at the same time, serious discussions of building waste-to-energy incinerators have been held in Anne Arundel and Carroll, while the Howard County Council has backed a plan to shut down its only landfill within two years, in the hope that a regional plan for solid-waste disposal will be created.

That seems a very high hope indeed, given the fact that government officials in the region have been unable to develop any such plan.

An area-wide waste disposal plan was one of the early primary goals of the revamped Baltimore Metropolitan Council. However, its efforts have generated little more than lip service from the mayor and local county executives who still view a strong embrace of regionalism as political suicide. A long-promised, often-delayed BMC disposal strategy still has not been released. In addition, the future of Baltimore regionalism has become even more uncertain with BMC executive director Charles Krautler's decision to take a new job in a similar capacity in North Carolina.

Regional officials have spoken of the necessity to spread waste-disposal facilities around so both the pain and the gains would be shared by all the jurisdictions. But the officials have not progressed much beyond words. The evidence lies in how the Baltimore City Council and other local governments continue blindly making plans for numerous waste-disposal facilities that would prove redundant and costly in more ways than financial.

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