Owens to meet with BGE on safety

Arundel executive enters controversy over ammonia plan

July 27, 2000|By Stephanie Hanes | Stephanie Hanes,SUN STAFF

For the first time, County Executive Janet S. Owens is turning her attention to Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s plans to truck a hazardous chemical into the Brandon Shores power plant in north Anne Arundel County. Owens will meet with BGE and county officials next week to discuss the plans and the community's concerns.

BGE's proposal to import anhydrous ammonia for a new anti-pollution system - which will let the plant comply with a court order to reduce emissions - has sparked outrage among the plant's Solley neighbors.

"I can understand why citizens would be afraid of a dangerous substance on that road," Owens said this week, referring to the Fort Smallwood Road route that trucks filled with anhydrous ammonia would travel daily.

Owens, who has been on vacation for two weeks, said she has directed her staff to research anhydrous ammonia and that she is gathering information.

"My No. 1 concern as county executive is the safety of citizens," she said.

In recent weeks, community leaders have called for wider county attention to the issue. They said they were pleased at Owens' apparent interest.

"I'm glad she's going to sit down and meet with BGE, because this is a massive problem," said Marcia Drensyk, a Solley resident who is organizing the opposition to the anhydrous ammonia plan. "It's high time her departments brief her fully on anything and everything they know about this."

Residents worried about a possible chemical accident have vowed to fight the utility's plans to import anhydrous ammonia. BGE officials maintain that their system would be safe.

Neighborhood organizers have collected more than 1,000 signatures on a petition against BGE's plan, and Marcia Drensyk, a community activist from the Solley area, said about 50 people will protest tomorrow morning in front of the Brandon Shores plant.

Fort Smallwood Road has been the site of numerous accidents, including 10 this year at its intersection with Energy Parkway, the point where trucks carrying ammonia would turn into the Brandon Shores complex. Residents have expressed concern over the possibility that a truck might be involved in an accident and release the pressurized gas.

This is the first time Owens has weighed in on the most recent battle between BGE and Solley-area residents, which has heated up in recent weeks.

"It's always good when the county executive wants to meet and understand these issues," said Del. Joan Cadden, a Democrat who represents the Solley area in the General Assembly.

"The county executive has always been very responsive to that area of the county," she said.

Anhydrous ammonia is a common industrial chemical. Extreme exposure can result in severe lung damage and death.

Residents have said BGE should use an alternative emission-reduction system that would eliminate the need to truck ammonia into the plant.

In a letter sent to nearly 700 residents yesterday, BGE reiterated that it would monitor the alternative anti-pollution system and said it would consider switching to that system in the next few years.

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