Incinerator owner offers to donate site Hackerman wants to give land to those who fought to close it

Support for Pulaski plan

City agency hiring firm to check safety for future development

January 05, 1998|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Construction magnate Willard J. Hackerman, who for years fought Baltimore officials and east side residents seeking to close his Pulaski Incinerator, wants to give the property to the communities that put him out of the trash-burning business.

Hackerman has offered to transfer the incinerator site to the nonprofit Southeast Development Inc., a proposal that has won the support of some city officials and community activists who fought for more than a decade to close the facility.

"I'll be relieved to see the plant out of his hands," said Tom Sadowski, who has lived in Armistead Gardens, near the incinerator, for 46 years. "We fought long and hard to close it down. The pollution was terrible. There was a gray film over everything."

For years, the incinerator had problems meeting state air quality standards. In 1995, officials of the Maryland Department of the Environment found "large amounts of carbon dioxide and visible emissions coming out of the incinerator" and announced that the plant was "having difficulty trying to comply with several consent orders against [it]."

Hackerman was out of town yesterday and could not be reached for comment. But Ken Strong, executive director of SDI, and city officials said Hackerman has offered to demolish the incinerator and donate his rights to the land to SDI.

The politically well-connected owner of Whiting-Turner Construction Co. bought the Pulaski Highway incinerator from the city in 1981, when William Donald Schaefer was Baltimore's mayor.

At the time, Hackerman signed a 99-year lease to rent the 11-acre incinerator property from the city for $1,000 a year. He closed the plant two years ago after Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke blocked his plans to build a new incinerator.

Baltimore Development Corp., the city's economic development arm, is in the process of hiring a firm to conduct an environmental study of the incinerator site. The study will include soil analysis and ground-water testing, said BDC President M. J. "Jay" Brodie.

"We're very excited about the possibility of developing that site," Brodie said. "But we want to make sure that before any entity develops that site, it is safe to do so."

Strong said he would like to build a small business park on the property. He plans to ask SDI's board of directors for approval to hire an economic development consultant to develop a plan for the site.

"We would develop guidelines for redevelopment of the property with community concerns in mind," Strong said. "That means we would protect Herring Run, create jobs for the residents of Southeast Baltimore and make sure that the new development does not contribute to pollution."

Strong said he will not accept Hackerman's offer until the site is cleaned up.

Under current laws, anyone who owns or finances a project involving environmentally contaminated property -- even if the person wasn't responsible for the contamination -- can be liable for cleanup costs. Strong said that is not a risk SDI is willing to take.

"We would have to be assured that we would not be liable for any past pollution," Strong said. "That means the incinerator site would have to get a clean bill of health from the Maryland Voluntary Cleanup Program before we take ownership of it."

Under the program, property owners subject their buildings and land to rigorous environmental testing. After any necessary cleanup is done, environmental officials issue a letter stating that the property meets standards -- clearing the way for development.

To be eligible for the state program, a site must first be subjected to a preliminary environmental study. The BDC study would clear the way for the incinerator site to participate in the state cleanup program.

"If the community associations in the area can deal with redevelopment on that site, I think it's a wonderful gift on Mr. Hackerman's part," said 1st District Democratic City Councilwoman Lois Garey, who represents the area. "He could have donated that plant to anyone, but he chose to give it to the very communities that fought him for years."

In Armistead Gardens, it may be difficult to muster support for any new development at the incinerator site. The facility's charcoal-colored smokestacks loom over the community, a constant reminder of the soot that enveloped their property when the plant was operating.

"Hackerman raped the land at that site and poisoned the air we breathe," said Lynne Ward, 43, a lifelong resident of Armistead Gardens who fought to close the plant. "Over the years, we've heard so many promises -- promises that have all been broken.

"You know what I hope? I hope that site's cleaned up and then nothing happens there. I don't trust anyone to do the right thing."

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