Harford bill may allow incinerator near park

Hearing, vote Tuesday on buying site by Cunion Field

November 30, 2009|By Jonathan Pitts | Baltimore Sun reporter

Harford County residents will have a chance to raise questions Tuesday about a controversial bill that would allow the county to build a waste-to-energy incinerator near Cunion Field, an Edgewood park popular with local children and their families.

The Harford County Council is to vote on the measure, Bill No. 09-36, at a public hearing at 6 p.m. Tuesday. The bill would allow the county to purchase Prologis Park, a 113-acre commercial lot in Edgewood, for $4.9 million.

The intent of the acquisition, administrators say, is to allow the county to create a new access road to an existing waste-to-energy incinerator at Aberdeen Proving Ground, a facility that has turned Harford County solid waste into energy-producing steam since 1986.

The county, state and Army have been working on a deal that would greatly expand the site, which stands on 13 acres at the Army base. The $400 million expansion would quadruple the incinerator's capacity to 1,500 tons a day, double the number of delivery trucks in and out of the site, and open the facility to waste from other counties.

The logistically and politically complicated deal has not been completed.

Harford County officials recently sparked controversy, however, when they announced they might use the Prologis site to build a waste-to-energy incinerator if plans to expand the existing one fall through.

The new incinerator - which would be about four times the size of the current one - would stand on the Prologis lot, which is in a largly residential area of Edgewood, a community near APG, rather than on the base itself.

The Prologis property abuts Trimble Road between routes 24 and 152. It also stands directly across Trimble from Cunion Field, a park in which children from all over Harford County - including teams from Edgewood High School - regularly play basketball, football and soccer.

In a series of meetings, Edgewood residents have voiced outrage that the county would consider placing a huge trash-burning facility near a site frequented by children.

"Residents who now live near the smaller waste-to-energy plant constantly complain of trash, noise, ash, dust and respiratory illnesses," said Omar J. Simpson, an attorney who lives in the community and is organizing opposition to the bill. "Bringing such a large source of contamination to an area right next to where our kids play and we live is a huge concern."

More than 150 attended a rally last week to express their concerns. Some called the measure just the most recent sign that Harford County takes the welfare of Edgewood - one of its poorest areas - less seriously than it should.

Edgewood has long been "the poster child [for] fiscal neglect" in the county, says Mark Franz, a member of the town's community council. "It has survived on a starvation diet while the county seat [Bel Air] has transformed itself into a virtual cosmopolitan minicity.

"Edgewood has been called 'the armpit of Harford County' for some time now," he added. "If this incinerator comes into existence, what shall it be renamed?"

Robert Cooper, director of public works for the county, has said the community misreads the intentions of the bill.

The county's preference is still to expand the current incinerator, he says, but the Army has balked at the idea of a new access road coming in from Route 24, an objection that leaves the success of the project in doubt.

The county wants Prologis Park mainly because it would offer new access to the existing incinerator, Cooper said. That would move incoming delivery trucks away from their only current access route, Magnolia Road, which is a residential thoroughfare.

The bill, he said, does not mandate that the county will build a new incinerator in Edgewood. It just makes it possible.

But County Councilman Dion F. Guthrie, a vehement opponent of the measure whose district includes Edgewood, urged his constituents to attend the hearing, scheduled at the council chambers on South Bond Street in Bel Air.

"We need to get other council members to focus on this," Guthrie wrote in a recent mass e-mail.

"Remember, [Prologis Park] is not in their districts. We will need a full house to defeat this bill."

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