He's trying to put dents in a big utility's armor

Comment

March 30, 1997|By BRIAN SULLAM

PERSISTENCE is Carl Hackmann's most obvious characteristic.

Mr. Hackmann is leading the charge against the third increment of BGE's fly ash disposal plan at Brandon Woods Energy Business Park.

The Riviera Beach resident represents the Coalition of Communities and Citizens Against Fly Ash, a collection of people who live or have lived along Solley Road near BGE's large Brandon Shores power plant in northern Anne Arundel County.

To the chagrin of BGE executives, the Riviera Beach resident is a skeptic and a relentless fighter. He is willing to ask the tough questions no one else poses about BGE's plans to bury 500,000 tons of fly ash each year on property the utility owns between Fort Smallwood and Solley roads.

BGE has been dumping ash on this site since 1982, when its huge Brandon Shores plant began operations. Since then, the company has burned about 5 million tons of coal annually, producing about 500,000 tons of fly ash each year that must be dumped somewhere.

Fly ash consists of a number of different compounds, including silica, alumina and iron oxide. It also contains small amounts of calcium oxide, potassium oxide, titanium oxide, magnesium oxide and sulfur trioxide and sodium dioxide. The concentration of trace metals such as chromium, arsenic, cadmium, zinc, copper and lead is about four times that normally found in soil, but far below the levels considered to be toxic.

BGE engineers point to a number of studies that show fly ash is not toxic. They also can show skeptics pages of chemical analyses of runoff from the fly ash that has been buried to date. According to those findings, the runoff is very close to being of drinking water standards.

Nevertheless, Mr. Hackmann likes to point out that it took until 1993 for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to rule that coal fly ash should not be regulated as a hazardous material.

"That was done out of consideration of the utilities, not because the material is necessarily safe," Mr. Hackmann contends.

Coal-burning utilities did not have a fly ash disposal problem before the federal Clean Air Act. Fly ash just spewed out the smokestacks and fell to the ground. Since the advent of the emission controls, utilities that burn coal have a pressing fly ash disposal problem that can hamper their daily operations if not properly handled.

Fly ash bottleneck

In the case of Brandon Shores, BGE has silos that can hold a little more than two days' production of fly ash. If the ash can't be moved, the utility has to consider shutting down its furnaces, which would have a devastating impact on BGE. Brandon Shores generates about one-fifth of the utility's electricity.

Mr. Hackmann acknowledges that disposing of the ash is a problem. He just thinks that the Solley Road community has received its share.

BGE built two phases of the Brandon Woods Energy Business Park on the tons of ash. Large warehouses and distribution centers, employing hundreds, have been built on the fill. BGE wants to continue dumping, filling and developing, much as it has.

Mr. Hackmann and his group would like the project to stop. Mr. Hackmann, whose family has lived in the neighborhood for three generations, believes that the continued dumping will destroy tTC what remains of the close-knit community.

"Our big fear is that BGE will fill every vacant parcel of land on this peninsula with fly ash," he says.

He has no qualms about using ash to fill abandoned gravel and sand pits if it can be done in an environmentally sound fashion, but Mr. Hackmann believes BGE will discourage these efforts because of the high costs. If the company can't find alternative sites, Mr. Hackmann wants an absolute assurance that BGE's plans to bury millions of tons of fly ash across the street from his boyhood home is absolutely safe.

"Where is the proof?" he asks. "I want BGE to unequivocally show 50 years from now we aren't going to have environmental problems in the Chesapeake Bay from runoff that has leached into aquifers, creeks and estuaries that surround this dump."

Despite dozens of hearings, briefings and studies showing that the fly ash is a relatively benign compound, Mr. Hackmann insists that the risks of using fly ash as a fill material poses long-term risks.

Mr. Hackmann says having two sons and a daughter explains why he is willing to fight with such vehemence.

"My wife and I have a lot of family ties to this area," he says. "This long-term continuity is what made this county strong and an attractive place to live. Turning this section of the county into a dump will destroy it."

Mr. Hackmann recognizes that BGE is not just any corporation. It is the largest company in Anne Arundel County and pays more taxes than any other business.

He also is realistic in knowing that he probably won't succeed in stopping the plans.

"My aim," he says, "is to put some dents in their armor and to slow them down."

Brian Sullam is The Sun's editorial writer in Anne Arundel County.

Pub Date: 3/30/97

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