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MELP proposal hinges on neighbors' support

December 03, 1996

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

The fate of a proposal to power up Hagerstown's former Municipal Electric Light Plant to produce steam and electricity might be in the hands of its residential neighbors.

Hagerstown City Council members said Tuesday they would wait until a January meeting with neighbors to decide whether they will support the plan by two out-of-state companies.

If the neighbors don't support the project, then city officials probably won't support it either, said Mayor Steven T. Sager. Sager said he wouldn't support the project if the neighbors were against it, but that decision is up to the Council.

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Several neighbors who attended a Nov. 14 meeting at the 1st Urban Fiber paper recycling plant near the old MELP said they didn't favor having the old plant fired up again.

Neighbors said they had little trust remaining after promises that 1st Urban's plant wouldn't smell bad were broken by lingering odors in September and October. The old MELP and 1st Urban are both located at the intersection of Eastern and Memorial boulevards.

"They just don't want it," Sager told Council members about the neighbors' reaction to the MELP project. There's no platform for trust and there isn't going to be for years, he said.

It also hurt that the city's pellet plant emitted an unpleasant odor in early November, Sager said. The city plant produces pellets, which are a byproduct of the sewage treatment process that can be used for fertilizer.

While the city doesn't own the old MELP, Council members could pull the plug on the MELP project by agreeing not to buy power from it, officials said.

Partners Marketing Limited Liability Partnership, of Staunton, Va., bought the old MELP earlier this year and had hoped to work with a firm called Power Sources Inc. to sell electricity to the city and steam to Washington County Hospital and 1st Urban Fiber.

Power Sources proposes to generate electricity by burning wood from skids, scrap tires and the sludge from the 1st Urban Fiber that now is trucked to a local Pennsylvania landfill.

The city buying power from the plant is critical to the project, said H.D. Thompson, a partner in Partners Marketing. If the Council decides not to support buying power from the plant, that would "probably kill the project," Thompson said after Tuesday's mayor and Council work session.

Thompson said he will try to gain the neighborhood's support for the project, including inviting some neighbors on a trip to visit a plant Power Sources has in Loudon, Tenn., that burns sludge similar to 1st Urban's.

Thompson said he had hoped to hear by now that city officials intended to buy power from the old MELP since city officials plan to seek competitive bids for wholesale electricity in January. The city's three-year contract for wholesale power from Allegheny Power expires in June 1998.

MELP, which once provided power to Hagerstown residents, closed in 1972. It was fired up once since then, during a 1978 coal miners' strike.

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