Carroll commissioners vote to delay incinerator decision

The Board of Carroll County Commissioners voted Thursday to amend a resolution approved in June that maps their exit from the waste-to-energy incinerator project with Frederick County.

Instead of withdrawing from the project once permits were issued, which was Friday, commissioners voted 4 to 1 to extend the negotiating period "indefinitely."

It is a move that commissioners say will provide more time for staff to negotiate their departure from the project while saving taxpayer money.

"We're just allocating a little more time to try to get that done to save the taxpayers some money," Commissioner Haven Shoemaker said.

Commissioner Doug Howard cast the lone opposing vote.

Most of the commissioners have been moving toward leaving the project since campaigning on the issue in 2010.

In June 2013, commissioners voted to allocate $3 million from a reserve for contingencies fund to pay any penalties associated with exiting the agreement with the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority once permits were issued.

On Friday, the Maryland Department of the Environment issued the necessary permits for the project. Permits are effective Feb. 21 and include air quality, refuse disposal, and wastewater discharge permits.

After Thursday's meeting, commissioners said this vote does not represent the board delaying their decision to avoid making it altogether.

Commissioner Richard Rothschild said setting a deadline would be irresponsible of the board.

"If we were to set a deadline, they would just wait us out," he said of the negotiations.

He added that he believes negotiations will not "drag on."

"It is in the best interest of all parties to resolve this very quickly," Rothschild said.

Shoemaker described the commissioners' vote as "kicking the can down the road with a purpose."

"This is not an indefinite postponement from our way of thinking, it's a short respite," Shoemaker said.

While the commissioners discussed and voted on the resolution Thursday, the commissioners' office never publicly advertised that the board would be discussing the issue during the meeting.

After a vote on the formation of a solid waste advisory board, Tom Rio, administrator of Public Works, brought up the subject of the waste-to-energy incinerator.

Rio said negotiations are ongoing with Frederick County and Wheelabrator to leave the project before commissioners delved into a 10-minute discussion on the topic.

Commissioners acknowledged after the meeting that not advertising the discussion may have been a mistake.

"If we followed our regular policy, it would have been on the agenda," Commissioner Robin Frazier said.

Frazier said she wasn't considering procedure during the discussion, but instead was focused on "making a decision that saves taxpayers' money."

Commissioners Chief of Staff Steve Powell said the commissioners' office is not required to advertise a discussion or potential vote on a resolution, which is not new or representing a change of course.

"If it were, it would have been advertised," Powell said, adding that he viewed the issue as an administrative matter.

Commissioner Doug Howard suggested during the meeting that the issue be placed on a future agenda for discussion.

He said the board is getting "dangerously close" to the point where it has a limited time left in office and needs to move with getting out of the agreement.

"We put the money aside. It was supposed to be acted upon when these permits were executed. We voted on that," he said. "To sort of haphazardly, in a short period of time, take a different course of action, I think is concerning."

Shoemaker said introducing topics during a meeting and taking action on them when not advertised is not a precedent he would like this board to set.

"I would've rather had it as a specific agenda item," he said. "But we're up against the clock on this thing."

Rothschild, who earlier this year requested statewide legislation requiring public bodies to post an agenda before public meetings, said the board viewed the issue as an administrative item.

He added that the board should "always give our public as much notice as possible."

"When we're in the middle of a time sensitive situation, it's not always easy to provide advance notice," he said.

According to a county news release issued Feb. 21, "County staff will be studying the permits during the 10-day review period in concert with Frederick County and the Northeast Waste Disposal Authority and will advise the Commissioners once the review is complete."

In 2009, the previous board of county commissioners entered into an agreement with Frederick County and the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority to build an incinerator in Frederick capable of handling 1,500 tons of waste a day.

The current Carroll County commissioners informed Frederick County in 2012 that they were preparing to exit the agreement, citing concerns with the cost of building the incinerator and hauling costs. This gave Frederick the go-ahead to begin seeking a replacement partner for the project, but a replacement partner has yet been announced.

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