Residents fight BGE over fly ash Neighbors worry about health effects of fill material

Permit to be challenged

Utility calls fears unfounded, saying substance is benign

March 05, 1997|By Consella A. Lee | Consella A. Lee,SUN STAFF

Residents along Solley Road have worried for decades about the effects that Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s fly ash operation at its Brandon Woods industrial park might have on their health and community and the environment.

Now, residents are taking their dispute with BGE to the Board of Appeals, hoping the board will rescind a county decision giving the utility permission to use 1.6 million cubic yards of coal ash as fill at the last of three sections of the industrial park.

"We consider it a serious environmental problem," said Casper Hackmann, 74, a retired pipefitter for the former Continental Oil Co. and one of those who filed the appeal. He has lived on Solley Road his whole life.

The only thing that separates the homes of Hackmann and his neighbors from BGE's property is 20-foot-wide Solley Road. When the trees have leaves, they block the view of the mountain of ash.

The ash, a combination of chunks and fine fly ash dust, is JJTC byproduct of coal burning at two nearby BGE power plants, Brandon Shores and Wagner Point. The utility transports the ash to Brandon Woods, where it is developing a business and industrial park over the fill.

"What they call a structural fill operation is what we call a dump," said Carl Hackmann, Casper Hackmann's son and spokesman for the Coalition of Communities and Citizens Against Fly Ash.

The grass-roots coalition of community associations and residents, was formed four years ago to fight BGE over the use of fly ash on its property. It has 100 members, said Carl Hackmann, 42, a subcontract buyer for Northrop Grumman Corp.

Joe Schreiber, development manager of Constellation Properties, BGE's real estate arm, which oversees Brandon Woods, said the company and residents have "this history that ** we keep going on and on and on" over the issue.

"They've been in opposition to our operation at Brandon Woods from day one. They feel that we should not be doing what is legitimately our right to do," he said.

BGE is hoping for a decision in its favor from the Board of Appeals, but it is ready to appeal to county Circuit Court if necessary, Schreiber said.

A December ruling by Robert C. Wilcox, the county administrative hearing officer, gave BGE permission to fill 103 acres at Brandon Woods with fly ash. It was the first ruling by Wilcox under a 1994 county law that requires BGE to get a special exception to fill a site with combustion ash. The community coalition fought for a year for that law, the younger Hackmann said.

The law includes restrictions and compromises between the utility and residents over such issues as how much fly ash would be put down per acre, how it would be compacted and noise from trucks at the Brandon Woods.

The special exception, which gives residents the right to appeal a BGE permit, grew out of that law, the younger Hackmann said.

Wilcox's ruling revived the issue of whether fly ash should be subjected to closer state environmental scrutiny.

Jeffrey Rein, environmental project manager in the state Department of the Environment's waste water and discharge program, was in meetings all day yesterday and was unable to return calls, a spokeswoman said.

Solley Road residents want BGE's special exception request to be rescinded, the younger Hackmann said.

"That's the ultimate goal. I would say realistically that's a long shot. But if we don't win with the appeal, we'd like to at least raise public awareness of what's going on," he said.

"This has been going on for 20 years," he said, referring to when BGE began buying up property in the Marley Neck peninsula.

"It's so slow-growing and insidious. You have to deal with public apathy."

Another whose name is on the appeal is Jane Pumphrey Nes, a large landholder and a descendant of the Pumphreys, whose history in the county dates to the 1600s. At one time, Nes' family owned most of Marley Neck Peninsula. She donated land for Solley Elementary School, which is across the street from BGE's operation.

Now, Nes is going through the county's subdivision process for building Tanyard Springs, a townhouse development. The project has support from neighbors, who say surrounding industries threaten their community. They talk about Browning Ferris Industries' toxic-waste fill, a Hawkins Point medical waste incinerator and BGE's fly ash.

Nothing has been proved to substantiate their fears, but residents have frequently said that they worry about the effects the chemicals in fly ash might have on their health.

"If you live near a landfill, which is what we have here, and no one can tell you what the long-term health effects might be, it's like a slow-growing tumor that nobody knows about," Carl Hackmann said.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has said that arsenic, lead, chromium, nickel, copper and selenium "are known to be present in coal fly ash" and that "there is no question about the fact that coal fly ash leaches toxic metals into the environment."

Nancy Caplan, a BGE spokeswoman, said residents' fears about the health dangers of fly ash are unfounded. "There's been extensive research done, and fly ash is a benign material created from burning coal," she said.

Fly ash is used locally and nationally in roadbeds and building projects, including the Key Bridge extension in Baltimore, BGE officials said.

The Board of Appeals hearings are to be held at 6: 30 p.m. March 25 and April 1 in the council room at the Arundel Center in Annapolis.

Pub Date: 3/05/97

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