BGE to stop using fly ash as filler

residents say change is victory

Most of coal byproduct will go into concrete mix

July 02, 1999|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. will end its contentious use of fly ash to level the ground at its Marley Neck business park. Instead, it will use the fly ash to make concrete mix and to fill a Gambrills sand and gravel pit.

Company officials said yesterday that BGE has decided to stop depositing fly ash as structural fill for the Brandon Woods Business Park as of Aug. 15 because with a newly operating plant turning much of the ash into concrete additive, it no longer needs the fill site that has long been a sore point with the adjacent Pasadena neighborhood.

"It just made good business sense at this time," said Rose Muhlhausen, a BGE spokeswoman. "At Brandon Woods, we will no longer, ever, place any more ash there."

Its mounds of fly ash will be gone by year's end, BGE said.

Neighbors in the Solley community who have been battling the utility for nearly two decades hailed BGE's move as a victory for their perseverance, which raised environmental concerns, created constant obstacles for BGE and helped elect a vocal fly ash opponent to the General Assembly.

Since 1982, BGE has deposited 4 million tons of fly ash at the business park and could have used much more to develop its 500-acre office and industrial park. The combination of gray dust and chunks is a byproduct of burning coal at BGE's Brandon Shores and H. A. Wagner electricity-generating plants.

"If it wasn't for the community and our opposition and making them qualify [for permits] and saying we are not going to put up with this, this wouldn't have happened," said environmental activist Mary Rosso.

"The community was unrelenting. The community was critical in this," said Rosso, who won a House of Delegates seat in November on quality-of-life and environmental issues in an area where people feel beset by an old toxic dump, air pollution and junkyards amid marinas and woods.

Her proposal to require power plant owners to build clay liners under fly ash died quickly in a House committee in March, but she vowed to submit it annually.

The community was at odds with BGE over every attempt to work on the site. In 1994, neighbors spurred passage of a county law requiring BGE to obtain a special exception to fill a site with the ash instead of the usual dirt, and then used the law to continue their fight against the company, whose ash they said was covering neighborhood porches with fine dust and creating floods.

Utility executives have said they tried to work with the community, have not contributed to flooding and water table problems there and have recycled a natural product that has never been proved toxic.

BGE said its decision had nothing to do with a potentially costly blow in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court and its pending appeal to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. Muhlhausen said the timing of the announcement was pegged to the recent opening of the plant that processes ash for concrete.

The neighborhood opponents dispute that. "I think what's in it for them is that the cost of the project has gone up for them," said activist Carl Hackmann.

In October, Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Ronald A. Silkworth, in a move that made residents around the BGE plant jubilant, ordered BGE to install a $10 million liner for protection against leakage under about 150 acres of the Brandon Woods Business Park, where the company planned to dump more than 1.5 million tons of fly ash. A ruling against BGE by the appellate court could have broader, statewide implications. BGE plans to drop that challenge, Muhlhausen said.

The amount of fly ash BGE deposited at Brandon Woods dwindled from 94 percent of the 550,000 tons it produced in 1994 to 10 percent last year, as the company found other outlets, mostly in concrete mix. It was used in the construction of Jack Kent Cooke Stadium in Prince George's County and in the widening of Interstate 695 near the Key Bridge.

In April, an ash-processing plant built by Separation Technologies Inc. began operating at Brandon Shores. It separates the high-carbon ash for reburning from the low-carbon dust used in concrete mix. BGE expects most of its ash to go there.

Several state and federal agencies have found the ash not to be hazardous, but the Solley community produced experts who said there was a high risk that water flowing through compacted ash might contaminate ground water on their low-lying peninsula.

BGE disputed those allegations.

Yesterday, neighbors in the Solley community still wanted to know what, if anything, BGE would do to address problems they blame on the utility.

"We are going to stay to work with the community more effectively than we have in the past," said Glenn Nilsen, supervisor of the ash operation.

Sun staff writer Jackie Powder contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 7/02/99

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