Officials move on plan for plant

County Council's OK is sought on $350 million energy facility

April 27, 2008|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun reporter

Harford officials are working to win the County Council's approval for a $350 million waste-to-energy plant, while also moving forward with an expansion to the county's only public landfill.

The upgrade to the Harford County Resource Recovery Facility in Joppa would allow the plant to produce more steam and electricity, which the county could sell.

An enlarged facility could handle Harford's trash and that of neighboring Baltimore and Cecil counties, officials say. It could process as much as 1,500 tons a day, they say, nearly five times what it burns now. With that capacity, Harford would generate enough steam and electricity to power Aberdeen Proving Ground and about 12,000 homes and businesses in the county.

Reviewing two bids

The project has yet to win approval from the County Council, but public works officials are reviewing two bids for design and construction of such a facility on ground adjacent to the existing plant.

Baltimore County has expressed interest in using the facility that would be built on Magnolia Road north of U.S. 40 and has offered to share in the costs, officials said.

"We are looking for the best and final contract offer," said Robert B. Cooper, county director of public works. "Baltimore County absolutely wants to join us in this project. We will operate at the most economy and produce all the steam the Army needs as well as electricity for our own purposes in the county."

Harford has been selling steam created at the 20-year-old plant to power heat and air conditioning for several areas of Aberdeen Proving Ground.

The post will grow by as many as 10,000 new jobs as part of the nationwide base realignment and closure process, known as BRAC, and the Army wants to augment its steam contract with the county to meet the demands of that growth.

As soon as council members decide on the project, Cooper said he would like to select a contractor and proceed. The permits process would take about two years and financing arrangements could proceed simultaneously, he said.

Construction costs

Sale of steam and electricity as well as tipping fees -- the per-ton cost that trash haulers pay the landfill -- should help repay the construction costs, he said. Tipping fees were just increased from $50 to $60 per ton for an estimated $2 million annual boost in revenues.

Plans call for a plant that can burn as much as 1,500 tons daily. Harford County would eventually need about 700 tons of that capacity to meet growth needs.

"We are going for the maximum size," Cooper said. "Baltimore County will take as much space as we can give, and we will preserve capacity for us. I really think this project will move forward."

120,000 tons

The energy plant now burns about 120,000 tons of trash annually, more than twice the amount that goes to the county's landfill in Street.

With the upgrades, the plant could extend the life of the landfill, known as the Harford Waste Disposal Center, to as much as 50 years, he said.

The landfill, which is set for expansion, is rapidly running out of space at its 66-acre site on Scarboro Road.

The Maryland Department of the Environment issued a permit for the additional landfill space last year, after a lengthy permit process and several public hearings.

Neighbors of the landfill remain opposed to the expansion and have said repeatedly that the facility is poorly managed. They have argued before the council and shown members photographs of perceived violations.

"They are not operating within the standards of their permit," said Diane Burrier, who has organized much of the opposition. "There is open, exposed garbage and no improvement in areas about which we complained."

Edward Dexter, administrator of the solid waste program at the state Department of the Environment, said he has received numerous resident complaints sparked by the expansion.

"The Scarboro site is generally in compliance with its permit as of recent inspections and overall is competently run," Dexter said, adding that the last inspection was a month ago.

Cooper insisted that landfill staffers are addressing residents' concerns and any noncompliance issues, including the need for more dirt cover on the trash. The landfill is approaching but has yet to reach its elevation limitation of 470 feet above mean sea level, Dexter said.

On 77 acres

Engineering for the added capacity on 77 acres northeast of the landfill's receiving area is nearly complete, with construction expected to start this summer.

The county has received assurances from Columbia Gas Transmission that the construction would not infringe on its high-pressure natural gas pipeline, which is in the area.

Creating several collection cells will take about nine months. Until the new cells open, possibly next spring, the county is preserving existing space by shipping some of the trash that it can't burn to Baltimore County's Eastern Landfill.

"We are tracking what we are shipping so that once we have expanded, Baltimore County can bring an equivalent amount to us," Cooper said.

Harford has also recently entered into a $65,000 annual contract with Maryland Environment Service, an independent state agency charged with protecting air, land and water resources. The agency will collect from, monitor and maintain the county's eight sites used for motor oil. The county has also asked the agency for recommendations on ways to improve landfill operations.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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