Bill aims to limit trash burners Apparent target is incinerator on Pulaski Highway

March 15, 1997|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

Stymied in their attempts to stop a Pulaski Highway incinerator owned by Willard J. Hackerman from reopening, Baltimore officials, legislators and environmentalists have turned to the General Assembly for help.

And this session, after a failed attempt last year, they are meeting with success.

Yesterday, the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee unanimously approved legislation that would ban new incinerators from being built or operated within a mile of a school. The measure goes to the full Senate for a vote next week.

The statewide bill -- clearly aimed at the Pulaski incinerator -- would not affect the 104 incinerators licensed to operate in Maryland.

The legislation already has passed the House of Delegates, where last year a similar bill aimed at stopping the incinerator was killed in committee.

"When this bill is signed, we're finally going to be able to say Pulaski is closed for good," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, state director of Clean Water Action, a national environmental organization. "We'll all be able to breathe a sigh of relief in the Baltimore area."

For years, environmentalists and community leaders have complained about pollution from the incinerator and expressed concerns about the possible effects of long-term exposure to it.

Hackerman shut the incinerator in August 1995 amid discussions with state and federal officials about the facility's inability to meet environmental standards. Since then, he has talked about the possibility of opening a new $300 million waste-to-energy fa-

cility on the site.

Hackerman, the politically well-connected owner of Pulaski and of the Whiting-Turner Construction Co., did not return phone calls seeking his comment.

But James J. Doyle Jr., a lawyer-lobbyist representing Hackerman, said he believed the legislation to be "bad public policy" because it is a "piecemeal" approach to dealing with incinerators across the state.

He also said Hackerman has no interest in reopening the incinerator in the near future -- or possibly ever -- and suggested he merely wanted to keep options open.

Hackerman has ruled out retrofitting the facility because of the estimated $60 million cost of upgrading the 41-year-old incinerator, Doyle said.

He said Hackerman is not pursuing construction of a new plant.

It is cheaper to put waste in landfills than it is to incinerate it, Doyle said. Building a new incineration facility, under those conditions, would be "bad business judgment."

Nevertheless, environmentalists say the bill is necessary to assure there will be no construction of a new facility, which Hackerman could do if he obtained necessary permits.

"The idea is not to make any more mistakes," said Terry Harris, an official of the Sierra Club's Baltimore chapter.

The primary sponsors of the legislation are Del. Peter A. Hammen and Sen. Perry Sfikas, both East Baltimore Democrats.

The Pulaski incinerator has a long history of controversy.

Hackerman bought the facility from the city in 1981 under the administration of then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer. At the time, questions were raised about the deal, which was said to be financially lucrative to Hackerman and his company.

In 1992, the Baltimore City Council enacted a five-year moratorium on incinerator construction.

Hackerman closed the facility in 1995 after years of problems in meeting state air quality standards and later running into roadblocks under the administration of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke in applying for permits to build a new incinerator.

In June 1995, Hackerman sued the city in Circuit Court in Baltimore County, where his company is based, after he failed to persuade officials to lift the moratorium or grant him an exemption.

In January, the moratorium was overturned by a county circuit judge, who concluded that the city moratorium improperly usurped the state's authority to regulate incinerator construction.

Pub Date: 3/15/97

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