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Joppa residents protest to Harford council about proposed tire pyrolysis plant

Contact Reporterdaanderson@baltsun.com

Residents concerned about a planned waste tire recycling plant in Joppa spoke before the Harford County Council Tuesday evening, some calling for an investigation of how the county has reviewed the project.

Auston LLC is seeking federal and state approvals to construct a facility where waste tires would be recycled using high heat through a process called pyrolysis.

The facility would be build in Auston’s existing industrial building on Pauls Lane off Route 7 in Joppa. The waste tires would be broken down into heavy crude oil, scrap steel and carbon black residue, a company co-owner said recently.

Residents of Joppa, Abingdon and Edgewood have expressed concerns about air and water pollution, the risk of an accident at a facility where oil is stored, increased traffic and how the county government has handled the application process.

The county has granted Auston’s request for a waiver of a review by the Development Advisory Committee, a typical step in the development review process. The Maryland Department of the Environment is reviewing Auston’s application for a required air quality permit.

During the public portion of Tuesday’s council meeting, Charles Lembach cited Section 215 of the county code, which grants the council the authority to investigate “the affairs of the County and the conduct of any County agency” by issuing subpoenas to witnesses, administering oaths, hearing testimony and reviewing evidence.

“I call upon you to take action and conduct this council review that I have requested,” Lembach said.

Lembach, who lives in Joppatowne, his 11-year-old daughter Breanna, and five other people discussed their concerns with the council.

“We are not quiet guinea pigs,” Breanna said. “We will be loud and fight back when companies want to test on innocent people in our county.”

Responding to the comments, Council President Richard Slutzky stressed that the council “has no authority or influence on decisions with this pyrolysis project at the tire facility.”

“You may speak to us, but we do not have the authorization or the council authority to inject ourselves into that project,” he said. Lembach called for extensive reviews of how the company plans to mitigate pollution and how the Department of Emergency Services would handle an industrial accident, plus he questioned whether the plant’s functions involving petroleum, rubber reclamation and recycling are allowed under the Auston property’s commercial/industrial zoning.

Councilman Mike Perrone, who represents the Joppa and Edgewood areas, raised the same concerns about zoning in a Sept. 6 letter to Planning and Zoning Director Bradley Killian. Perrone distributed copies of his letter after the meeting.

“The situation has the appearance of a well-conceived plan to bypass proper zoning procedures and, in fact, the zoning code itself,” Lembach said.

Facilities similar to what Auston officials have proposed do not exist in Maryland, a spokesperson for the Maryland Department of the Environment said this week.

Breanna Lembach cited the rarity of tire pyrolysis facilities in her remarks.

Members of the community group Stop the Tire Pyrolysis Plant! were in the council chambers, wearing white T-shirts.

About 25 people wore the organization’s shirts, Deborah Lembach, Charles’ wife and Breanna’s mother, said.

Tammy Stewart, of Abingdon, expressed concerns about potential health hazards for children. She said her children go to school near the Auston site.

“I can’t see sending them to that school if this plant is there because I don’t know how this is going to impact them,” Stewart said.

Earlier this week, Stewart said there are 16 schools – public and private, elementary and secondary – within a 6-mile radius of Auston’s property.

David Seman, of Jarrettsville, discussed how his family has invested in Joppatowne, by helping his son purchase and renovate a house in the community.

“We invested in Joppatowne because I believe in Joppatowne,” said Seman, who is chairman of the Jarrettsville/Norrisville Community Council. “It is a beautiful community, but it always seems to be under the gun about things like this.”

Residents of the area a few years ago successfully fought the county’s plan to build a trash transfer station on the Plecker property off Route 7, just a few hundred yards from Pauls Lane.

The previous county administration abandoned the plan in favor of having all waste trucked directly to White Marsh for final disposal. The Plecker property is currently for sale by the county.

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