Bill to ban incinerator approved Measure directed at Pulaski Highway facility passes Senate

Governor likely to sign

Environmentalists, neighbors who fought reopening rejoice

March 22, 1997|By Ivan Penn and William E. Thompson | Ivan Penn and William E. Thompson,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer William F. Zorzi Jr. contributed to this article.

After battling for more than a decade against businessman Willard J. Hackerman, opponents of his Pulaski Highway incinerator have dealt the operation a blow that could keep it out of business for good.

The Maryland Senate gave final approval yesterday to a bill banning the reopening of closed incinerators or construction of new ones within a mile of a school -- a measure aimed specifically at the Hackerman incinerator, which shut down two years ago and is near about a half-dozen schools.

Senators voted 35-9 to send the legislation to the governor, who is expected to sign it into law.

Lawmakers had propose a similar measure last year, but failed to get it through the General Assembly.

"It took a lot of hard work to get this bill through," said Del. Peter A. Hammen, the East Baltimore Democrat who sponsored the bill. "We needed it. It protects public health, and Baltimore City will not become a trash dump for the East Coast."

The General Assembly's passage of the bill was cause for celebration among East Baltimore community leaders and environmentalists.

"We have fought long and hard for this," said Peggy Kirk, a community activist who has lived in the Armistead Gardens community near the plant site for more than 50 years. "We just feel that in East Baltimore, we have more than our share of dumping and landfills.

"I myself am very happy this is over."

Hackerman, the politically well-connected owner of Whiting-Turner Construction Co., did not return phone

calls seeking comment yesterday.

But James J. Doyle Jr., who was lobbying on behalf of Hackerman against the bill, said he believed that the legislation was unfair because it targeted one specific operation.

"I think the bill is an abominable bill," Doyle said. "Obviously in a bill of this kind, there may be some attempt to get the governor to veto it."

'A local bill'

But a veto isn't likely, said Judi Scioli, the governor's press

secretary.

"We consider this a local bill," Scioli said. "He would look at it and, unless there is a negative statewide impact, he would very likely sign it."

Residents near the facility, environmentalists and Baltimore officials have fought to close the 41-year-old incinerator because of concerns about pollution and the long-term effect of its emissions on health.

With the charcoal-colored smokestacks looming on the horizon, parents and grandparents picking up their children at Armistead Gardens Elementary -- the school closest to the plant -- expressed relief yesterday that the incinerator is not likely to belch smoke any time soon.

Christine A. Davis, 53, has lived in Armistead Gardens for 22 years. "We used to get up every morning and have to wash the windows. They had a film on them like soot," said Davis, who has two daughters and four grandchildren living in the neighborhood.

JoAnne Wright, mother of two daughters ages 8 and 9, said she thinks the emissions may have contributed to health problems. "With the landfill and the incinerator, we couldn't win for losing. At certain times, especially during the summer, it would stink really bad. There was a lot of smoke," she said.

Complaints of smoke

Hackerman bought the facility from the city in 1981, when William Donald Schaefer was Baltimore's mayor.

Residents say they fought to have the facility closed at that time, complaining about the plumes of smoke that would fill the air around the plant and the soot that would settle on their property.

Because of residents' complaints about the Pulaski plant, the Baltimore City Council in 1992 enacted a five-year moratorium on incinerator construction.

In 1995, Hackerman closed the incinerator after years of problems meeting state air quality standards. He talked about opening a new $300 million waste-to-energy plant on the site, but he was stifled by the city's moratorium on incinerator construction.

Moratorium overturned

After failing to persuade city officials to lift the moratorium or grant him an exemption, Hackerman sued the city in Circuit Court in Baltimore County, where his company is based.

As a result of that suit, the moratorium was overturned by a county circuit judge in January 1996. The judge concluded that the city moratorium improperly usurped the state's authority to regulate incinerator construction.

State officials say the legislation passed by the General Assembly could survive a legal challenge, should Hackerman decide to go to court.

Robert A. Zarnoch, an assistant attorney general assigned to the legislature, said the bill passed constitutional muster when it was reviewed after introduction.

Still those who have fought against Hackerman over the years are gearing up for another fight.

"I've learned that these battles are never completely won, and I expect an attempt to overturn this victory," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, state director of Clean Water Action, a national environmental organization that fought to have the plant closed. "But, we've got to keep fighting."

Pub Date: 3/22/97

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