Company unfairly targeted, judge says

State law that prevented Pulaski Incinerator from operating is struck down

Unclear if site will reopen

November 01, 2001|By Joan Jacobson and Gerard Shields | Joan Jacobson and Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore County judge has struck down a 1997 state law that prevented the controversial Pulaski Incinerator from reopening in East Baltimore.

In an order signed this week, Circuit Judge J. William Hinkel found the law unfairly targeted the incinerator, owned by construction magnate Willard Hackerman, because it allowed the state's other 104 incinerators to continue operating.

The law was the result of a more than decade-long battle waged against Hackerman's waste operation by East Baltimore politicians and community leaders, who blamed the 44-year-old incinerator for air pollution and high cancer rates.

"The interests of one segment of the populace cannot be used as the motivation for legislation which unfairly targets and treads on the rights of another," Hinkel wrote in his 18-page order.

Hinkel noted that the legislation, sponsored by Del. Peter A. Hammen, a Baltimore Democrat, prohibits the operation of any incinerator within one mile of a school and applies only to incinerators not operating before Jan. 1, 1997.

At the time, Pulaski was the only incinerator near a school but not operating, and therefore the only one affected by the law. The incinerator was shut down in 1995.

"Clearly the introduction of these bills was in response to concerns that Pulaski would go back into operation," wrote Hinkel.

Kathryn Rowe, an assistant attorney general who represented the state in the case, said the decision would be appealed. She disputed the judge's conclusion that the state aimed the incinerator law at Hackerman.

"It applies to anyone who wants to build an incinerator," Rowe said. "And it applies to him as well."

Hackerman's attorney, Roger W. Titus of Rockville, declined to comment on the decision yesterday. Hackerman could not be reached for comment, and it is unclear whether he will try to restart the incinerator.

Peggy Kirk of Armistead Gardens, who helped fight for the law four years ago, summed up her reaction to the decision in a word: "Disgusted."

Kelley Ray, former president of the Belair Edison Community Association, said, "I don't think you could put enough WD-40 [oil] in that old broken-down piece of metal to start it."

She said that she and other activists have been fighting the incinerator for more than 10 years and that the air in her community is noticeably cleaner since it was shut down.

"It's too bad," Terry Harris of the Clean Up Coalition, an environmental group, said of the ruling. "I think the law was fine and had reasons behind it that weren't strictly for this incinerator."

Over the years, the Maryland Department of the Environment had found the incinerator did not meet state air-quality standards. In 1995, officials noted "large amounts of carbon dioxide and visible emissions coming out of the incinerator."

In the early 1990s, Hackerman encountered obstacles when he applied for permits to build an additional incinerator at the Pulaski site. In 1992, the City Council passed a five-year moratorium on incinerator construction.

Three years later, Hackerman closed the incinerator because of problems meeting state air-quality standards and his failure to get the moratorium lifted.

In 1995, he sued in Baltimore County Circuit Court, where his company, Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., is based, to reverse the moratorium. Hinkel ruled in Hackerman's favor in 1996, setting the stage for the state law.

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