New ash dumps banned for year

In wake of penalty, measure does not bar current dumping

October 03, 2007|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,sun reporter

One day after state officials meted out punishment to a coal-ash disposal site in Gambrills, Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold signed into law yesterday emergency legislation that bans the opening of fly-ash dumps for a year.

Although the bill does not address Constellation Energy's 12-year use of a disposal site operated by BBSS Inc., Leopold said the one-year deadline provides "important leverage" over the Maryland Department of the Environment as the agency looks to institute stronger regulations over how coal-fired power plants dispose of waste ash.

"The council responded to the voice of the people," said Leopold, who introduced the bill after a county investigation in August revealed cancer-causing metals in 23 private wells near the 80-acre BBSS property.

The County Council voted 6-0 in support of the temporary prohibition on Monday night, two weeks after three Republican members raised objections about the ban and delayed a vote. The bill faced an uncertain fate because the measure needed a super-majority of five votes to pass.

With the extra time to research the issue, council Chairman Ronald C. Dillon Jr. said he became "comfortable" voting for the bill. "I didn't see any benefit to hurrying the vote," he said yesterday.

C. Edward Middlebrooks, a Severn Republican, said he was "satisfied" after the one-year "sunset" provision was inserted two weeks ago. The bill does not prohibit current dumping. The original bill would have barred BBSS from creating new burial sites for the ash.

County planning officials said they were aware of no plans by BBSS or any other company to establish another burial site in the county.

Constellation voluntarily stopped dumping at the BBSS site two weeks ago, instead trucking the ash to three industrial landfills in Virginia at the cost of $1 million a month.

Dillon said that he would consider changing his position if Constellation hasn't found "a viable alternative" to trucking. He said he is worried about the environmental risk and traffic safety from trucks accumulating 5 million miles a year to transport ash from the Constellation's two coal-fired power plants in Anne Arundel County, both in Dillon's district.

Leopold, whom supporters credited with pressuring the state to step in, had floated the idea on Monday afternoon of the council postponing a vote again, saying members needed time to digest the consent decree filed against Constellation and BBSS. The Maryland Department of the Environment fined them $1 million and ordered them to clean up ground water contamination and institute new environmental controls.

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