County should hire Don King to promote its pretreatment plant

April 28, 1997

What, now 1st Urban Fiber and the Washington County industrial pretreatment plant are going to join the old Fairchild plant on the list of Very Large Buildings Not Being Used For Much Of Anything?

1st Urban, which spins paper waste paper into wedding invitations, or some such, will be idled for at least nine months - or until the market for waste paper spun into wedding invitations picks up.

I guess, short-term anyway, this clears up the stench problem, which city officials told us was not a problem, but rather a.) our imaginations, b.) the city pellet plant (as if that made the smell OK) or c.) a smell that was following in the tail of the Hale-Bopp comet, which would go away soon enough provided we were all not taken up first. Talk about pulp fiction.


OK, the smell's gone. But there's still this little issue of what for all the world looks like a 4,000-ton lime sherbet sitting in the heart of a residential neighborhood.

A green elephant? Not if you use a little good, old-fashioned innovation. There are at least two or three giant holding ponds outside the plant. So slap on a prefab roof, pipe in some freon and, voila, instant ice rink.

Cut some of the vats in half and there's your skateboard ramp. And those railed catwalks? Some awesome in-line skating.

Really, this could be Hagerstown's one great chance at hosting ESPN's X Games.

At least the City of Hagerstown was smart in this regard. All right, so they gave away the farm, but the plant ended up in the hands of private owners and the city doesn't have to pay for it.

Not so with the Washington County pretreatment sewer plant, which just isn't promoted enough. The County Commissioners own that free and clear. Well, not really clear. And not really free, either. Pretty soon they'll have to expand its capacity to treat all that red ink it's producing.

The pretreatment plant, which just isn't promoted enough, is losing almost a million dollars a year in operating expenses and that doesn't even count the repaying of the debt the county took on to build the plant, which just isn't promoted enough, in the first place.

Those costs were put off to the year 2000 as part of the county's $55 million sewer debt restructuring. So the county is considering mothballing the plant because it costs so much to operate and treats so little revenue-generating waste.

Somewhere you may have heard the problem is that the plant just isn't promoted enough. This comes from Commissioner Ron Bowers, who says if the world only knew that Washington County had an industrial waste pretreatment plant, industries from around the globe would be flocking to our sluice gates for the privilege of having us hose down their used motor oil.

So Washington County needs a promoter. Fine. I suggest Don King.

"In this corner, weighing in at $9 million and never tested, the number one contendah!"

Bowers last week balked at the idea of raising taxes to pay off the Williamsport sewer complex. "I ain't raising taxes and blaming it on the Conococheague Wastewater Treatment Plant," he said.

Oh? Pray, what other county enterprise is losing $888,000 a year, the courthouse lunch counter? If you employed the preindustrial waste plant to treat some of Bowers' statements, the facility would be at full capacity, and straining, within the month.

What we could do is pass an ordinance requiring all these new warehouses to generate a certain amount of industrial waste, which would then be treated by the county. Like they could force all their employees to change their wiper fluid on-premises and ... well, maybe not.

What will be funny is if we finally do get a big industry that wants to locate here, but can't because there's no room along the sewer lines because of all the warehouses.

No matter. There's plenty of residential space in the city. For a color, I suggest they paint it a light, creamy salmon.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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