City rules out plan for 2nd sludge pellet facility at Back River

September 01, 1994|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore officials have decided not to allow the construction of a second processing facility to turn wet sludge into dry pellets at the Back River Waste Water Treatment Plant.

The first such processing facility -- which uses indirect heat to make the conversion -- is in its start-up phase and is expected to be operational early next year.

But plans for a second facility at the city-owned plant in eastern Baltimore County -- using direct heat -- had drawn fire from nearby residents and county politicians. They feared it would increase, rather than cut down, air pollution and noxious odors.

Plans for both sludge-conversion facilities grew out of the infamous 1989 "poo-poo choo-choo," when the city loaded its sludge on a railroad train for Louisiana, only to find the Bayou State would not take it.

The train became a national symbol of the problems in disposing of the filtered by-product of waste water treatment plants. The city, pressured by the state Department of the Environment to develop alternatives to land disposal, came up with the idea of having private industry build and operate twin processing facilities.

Since then, technological improvements in processing waste water and increased composting have made a second facility at Back River unnecessary, officials said.

"We weighed all these factors and came up with an answer," said George G. Balog, director of the Department of Public Works.

Back River is a 180-million-gallon-a-day plant that treats two-thirds of the waste water from Baltimore and Baltimore County. The remainder is processed at the Patapsco Waste Water Treatment Plant. Mr. Balog said it would be "more logical" to put a second facility at Patapsco, which currently burns its sludge, than at Back River. He also said he wanted to "take one more look" at new technologies for treating sludge at Back River.

Community groups and the company that proposed building the second Back River facility both voiced approval of the city's decision.

"It makes a tremendous amount of sense in our view," said Michael Pace, vice president and general counsel of Wheelabrator Clean Water Systems, Inc. The company built the first Back River facility at a cost of about $30 million.

"We are celebrating this great victory," said Guido Guarnaccia, environmental chairman of the Wells McComas Citizens Improvement Association. "We did not need two pelletizers. One is adequate."

"We're very, very happy," said state Sen. Norman R. Stone, Jr., a RTC Baltimore County Democrat. He said the Back River plant is "better than it was but nowhere near where it should be."

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