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Community activists fear Washington County could be part of incinerator project

January 24, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com

Frederick County, Md., might soon be in need of a new partner to help fund its more than $300 million incinerator project, and local community activists worry that partner could end up being Washington County.

“Our understanding is that the new commissioners elected in Carroll County are disinclined to go along with the incinerator project, and so there’s a possibility that Washington County would be approached to join in the project,” said Ellis Burruss of WasteNot! Frederick, an incinerator opposition group.

Burruss and other opponents will give a presentation about the project tonight at the Boonsboro Recycling Task Force meeting in Shafer Park.

“Those of us who’ve been opposing the incinerator for some years want to let Washington County people know why we think it’s a bad idea, and why they should encourage their commissioners to not touch it with a 10-foot pole,” Burruss said.

Frederick and Carroll counties have an agreement with the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority to develop what they call a “waste-to-energy facility” at the McKinney Industrial Park near the Monocacy River, south of Frederick. The facility would burn up to 1,500 tons of garbage per day, generating up to 55 megawatts of electricity, according to a project fact sheet.

Opponents argue the facility would be too expensive, inefficient and would have negative effects on the environment and public health. Advocates promote it as a renewable energy source and a cost-effective alternative to hauling waste to landfills outside of the county.

The project was a hot issue in both counties’ elections last fall, and while Frederick County voters elected only candidates in favor of the project, four of the five commissioners elected in Carroll County were on record as opposing the project, according to position statements compiled by an opposition group at no-incinerator.org. The fifth, Dave Roush, was listed by No Incinerator as being in favor of waste-to-energy in general, but saying he was “not sure the current deal is the best deal for Carroll County.”

Cindy Parr, spokeswoman and deputy chief of staff for Carroll County government, said the new board had not made a decision about whether to back out of the agreement, but plans to discuss the issue over the next few months during its budget process.

“In campaigning, the general consensus was anti,” Parr said. “I think that they’re taking the opportunity now to learn about (waste to energy) and what exactly it means so they can make an educated decision.”

According to the counties’ memorandum of understanding, if Carroll County backs out of the project but Frederick County wishes to proceed, Carroll County will have to pay $3 million toward the initial design and engineering work unless a replacement funding partner is found.

The burden would be on Carroll County to find that replacement partner, Parr said.

“I would think that any county that’s adjacent or close by could be an option,” she said.

The previous board of Washington County Commissioners voted in August to send a letter expressing their interest in sending some of Washington County’s garbage to be burned at the facility if there is excess capacity in its early years of operation.

Under that arrangement, Washington County would not contribute to the cost of building the facility, but would pay a tipping fee to use it on a temporary basis.

Frederick County is to pay for 60 percent of the cost of the facility and Carroll County is to pay for 40 percent, in proportion to the percent of the capacity they will control, officials have said.

The cost of the facility has been reported to be as much as $527 million, but Michael Marschner, former Frederick County director of utilities and solid waste management, estimated the construction cost at about $316 million Monday.

Marschner retired from his director position last month, but said he is returning to the county in February to assist with special projects, including the waste-to-energy facility.

Marschner said in the event that a new funding partner was needed, other nearby counties, such as Howard and Montgomery, would be considered.

“Frankly, I’m not sure Washington County would be on the top of that list,” he said, explaining that the replacement partner would have to have waste-generation potential similar to that of Carroll County.

If no suitable partner were found, Frederick County would have to decide whether to build a smaller facility or not to build one at all, Marschner said.

“This is all extraordinarily hypothetical,” he said.

Newly elected Washington County Commissioners Ruth Anne Callaham, Jeff Cline and Bill McKinley said Monday they did not know enough details about the project to form an opinion on it.

Callaham said she is an advocate for alternative forms of energy, but would have to study whether participating in the project would be good stewardship for taxpayers.

“It’s no secret we’re still in very, very strict budget times, so I don’t see us spending a great bit of money now on anything,” she said.

Commissioners Terry Baker and John F. Barr did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

If you go ...

What: Incinerator discussion at the Boonsboro Recycling Task Force meeting

When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.

Where: Eugene C. Smith Community Center in Shafer Park, Boonsboro

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