BGE appeals board's order on fly ash site Utility required to install clay liner in disposal area

'A big black eye'

Solley community concerned water could be affected

February 22, 1998|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Gas and Electric is appealing a month-old order by the Anne Arundel County Board of Appeals requiring the utility to install a leak-blocking $10 million clay liner at the bottom of its Solley area fly ash disposal site.

The board issued the order after months of hearings in which residents questioned the utility using 1.6 million tons of fly ash as structural fill in a new section of Brandon Woods Business Park on Solley Road.

Peggy Mulloy, a BGE spokeswoman, said the utility filed the appeal in county Circuit Court Thursday.

"We're concerned that [the board's decision] would set a precedent," Mulloy said. "This could limit our other uses of fly ash. If you require a clay liner here, what happens to the next place we want to place fly ash?"

Residents were dismayed -- but not surprised -- at BGE's appeal.

"It's unfortunate not only for the local residents, but the entire northern county corridor," said Carl Hackmann, spokesman for the Coalition of Communities and Citizens Against Fly Ash (CCCAF), which asked for the Board of Appeals hearings hoping that the county would rescind the permit it granted BGE to use fly ash as filler.

"The essence of the ruling was to protect critical underground aquifers," Hackmann added. "In [the hearings'] technical testimony, it was clearly shown that [BGE's] fly ash operations put that at risk. It's going to be a big black eye for BGE when people realize they're putting their corporate interests ahead of public needs."

The ash, a combination of chunky and fine fly ash dust, is a byproduct of coal burning at BGE's nearby Brandon Shores power plant. BGE, which burns about 5 million tons of coal and produces 500,000 tons of fly ash annually, has dumped ash onto the site since 1982.

Phases one and two of the business park on the site were completed with 3 million tons of fly ash as filler, and house various businesses, including a Fila warehouse.

The Board of Appeals battle began after Robert C. Wilcox, then the county administrative hearing officer, gave BGE permission in late 1996 to fill about 150 acres of Brandon Woods' phase three with fly ash. It was Wilcox's first ruling under a 1994 county zoning law that requires obtaining special-exception status to fill a site with the ash.

BGE has always insisted that a natural continuous clay layer exists beneath the disposal site that would prevent leachate -- a liquid produced when water passes through layers of fly ash -- from contaminating aquifers.

Layer 'not continuous'

During the hearings, however, BGE geo-technical engineering expert Barbara Cook acknowledged that the layer is "not continuous throughout the site," prompting the board to issue its order for a clay liner.

Mulloy said BGE would submit a detailed memo stating its case by March 21. In the meantime, the CCCAF is lobbying the Army Corps of Engineers to revoke the permit it issued BGE to fill in wetlands on the Brandon Woods site with fly ash.

The residents, who sent a letter to the corps in November, sent another one last week saying: "In issuing the BGE permit, the corps relied upon the erroneous assertion by BGE that a natural, continuous clay layer underlying the entire site would protect the drinking water aquifer."

Tom Filip, assistant chief of the corps' Baltimore district regulatory branch, said they have been studying the issue since early December.

Jane Nes, a CCCAF member, said she hopes that the corps will hold hearings on the issue because hearings were not held when the permit was issued in 1993.

Mulloy expressed frustration with the residents' reaction.

"Every time they had a concern, we tried to do something to honor their concerns," she said. "They just don't want us to be there, and there's nothing we or anybody can say to satisfy them. They will not be happy until they shut us down."

Pub Date: 2/22/98

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