It was Harford County that pulled out of a waste disposal agreement with the Army, not the other way around, according to two county council members who met with Aberdeen Proving Ground officials Thursday morning.
Councilmen Dion Guthrie and Joe Woods said APG Garrison Commander Col. Orlando Ortiz told them the county informed the Army that the county had to "move in another direction."
"It has left the Army in a really bad spot," Guthrie said.
When he asked Ortiz if the Army would be ready to provide energy for its APG buildings in 2016, when the current waste-to-energy facility is supposed to retire, Guthrie said Ortiz replied: "We have no choice but to be ready."
"I was really shocked," Guthrie said.
Ortiz also said the Army is prepared to "put up tents" or do anything it has to do to keep its buildings running, Guthrie said.
Woods confirmed Ortiz's comments and said he was equally surprised to hear it was the county who pulled out of the agreement.
"Very disappointing," Woods said.
The two council members' claims appeared to contradict earlier claims by County Executive David Craig, who has said the Army had decided against building a new waste-to-energy incinerator to replace the 25-year-old facility that burns the county's trash to produce steam for heating and cooling buildings at APG's Edgewood Area.
The Army's position forced the county to find an alternative disposal plan, leading to Craig to strike a deal with Maryland Environmental Service for it to haul the trash away from a transfer station Craig plans to build near the I-95/Route 152 interchange in Joppa. The site is in Guthrie's council district but will become part of Woods' district after the 2014 election.
"I'm sure they [Guthrie and Woods] took what he [Ortiz] said and re-interpreted it for their own political reasons," Craig said Thursday evening, noting the Guthrie is opposed to the transfer station "because he thinks it will get him votes" and "Woods was not interested until he was redistricted."
As he had done previously, Craig said the county and the Army reached "a mutual decision like a divorce; they couldn't follow our procedures and we couldn't follow theirs."
In addition to having procurement policies that run contrary to county law, Craig said the Army brass at the Pentagon level, "the Big Army," don't want to do waste-to-energy projects anymore, preferring other heating and cooling alternatives.
He also said the county was running out of time and had to make a decision how it would get rid of the trash, so it could have a plan in place when the current incinerator goes out of service in 2016.
"Dion [Guthrie] is going to interpret what was said his way," Craig added. "If they [the council] don't want to do this and nothing is done, then it's off my plate and the next county executive can do it – and be a one-termer."
Controversy moves north
While it might be a remote possibility, Harford County Council President Billy Boniface thinks there could still be a chance to put the proposed waste transfer station at the existing waste-to-energy facility at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Boniface discussed different facets of the county's fiscal year 2013 budget at the Darlington/Dublin town hall meeting Wednesday evening at the Darlington fire hall.
Going through different funds that are part of the budget, Boniface called the transfer station the most controversial item in the county's 2013 capital budget that the council is currently reviewing.
Although the county has been seriously looking at the former Plecker's World of Golf property on Route 7 in Joppa, Boniface said, there are other alternatives for a site.
"We might be putting the cart before the horse on this one," Boniface said.
C. David Copenhaver, a member of the Abingdon Community Council, asked Boniface what he meant by alternative sites for the transfer station.
The county council president went into the transfer station's background - how there's a waste-to-energy facility run by Aberdeen Proving Ground in the southern portion of the county, but the Army will close the incinerator in 2016.
"The Army has been silent," Boniface explained as to why they are shutting down the facility. He explained that Harford County Executive David Craig has stated previously that the Army does not want to continue its relationship with the county, but neither Boniface nor other members of the county council have heard it directly from Army representatives.
Copenhaver, who was with Abingdon Community Council Chairperson Cynthia Hergenhahn at the Darlington session, mentioned that APG used the steam created from incinerating trash, much from the county, to create energy for the installation.
"They're saying they don't need it," Boniface said. APG's contract with the county, he continued, has been extended before.
If the Army doesn't have another option as to what to do with their trash and they still have the facility, Boniface said, "Why can't we put the transfer station there?"
He added that several of his colleagues would be meeting with Army representatives on Thursday, hopefully to receive an answer as to why "they've been silent on the issue."
Since a good majority of the Joppa and Edgewood communities, and to a lesser extent Abingdon, disapprove of the proposed facility in their area, the issue has been "very contentious," Boniface said.
With the possibility of an extended contract with the Army that could result in a transfer station at the current site, Boniface feels the county "may be premature in asking for it [a new site]."
One resident asked Boniface what the county plans to do with handling its trash in the future.
"We have to come up with an alternative because we don't want to expand the landfill," he said, adding that the county either needs a transfer station or waste-to-energy facility.
Budget hearing debate
Guthrie used the opportunity of the public works budget work session Tuesday to again express his doubts about the expiration of the waste-to-energy facility.
Environmental Services Director Tom Hilton said the plant was always set to expire in 2016, while Guthrie said he believes it will not expire until 2018 and perhaps the Army will extend the contract after that.
Public Works Director Bob Cooper said: "At this point, maybe there is that possibility that the Army would come back, but that agreement is made between the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority and the Army on behalf of Harford County. We've said this all along, regardless of what happens with that facility, we still need a transfer station."
On a separate waste-related topic, Woods also brought up the expansion of the landfill in Street during the budget work session, which is ultimately expected to cost about $28 million.
The proposed 2013 budget allocates $181,000 toward that project. Another $20.1 million was already approved in previous years.
"Something always smells bad to me there, and it's not the trash," Woods said, calling the project "$30 million for dead animals and waste."
"Just blows me away," he said.
Hilton replied: "That's one reason why we're moving to waste transfer, so we don't have high landfill expenses in the future."
Guthrie also pointed out that Harford is apparently leading every county in the state with recyclables.
"If we're doing that and we're leading the state by two to one [in recycling], why do we need to soak $30 million of taxpayers money into a plant we may not need?" he asked. "I don't think anybody in this room really knows what [the Army is] going to do in 2016."
"The only thing we've accomplished is tripling our trucks [in traffic], getting a $30 million facility we don't need and putting a facility into an overcrowded intersection," he continued. "That's what our citizens have to look forward to."
"I'm going to do everything I can to stop it," Guthrie said. "No one has convinced me to this point that we need this."
Gloria Moon, a member of the citizens' budget committee and a Joppa resident and Joppa Community Council member, said the public works department should have first approached with a proposal to amend the solid waste management plan.
"The process if flawed. You've done it backward, in my opinion," Moon said. "To come to the council and say, 'Just give me the money and we'll talk about that later,' is putting the cart before the horse."
Guthrie added: "Us appropriating this allocation to this project does not give you the authority for this project. You would still have to come before us to ask the waste management plan to be amended or even possibly put the landfill in another place."
Woods, however, said the capital budget mentions the specific district the facility would be in.
"What bothers me is on the page it says 'District A' and locks it into this area," he said.
Boniface replied: "I guess we'd have to do a memorandum of change to move it to another location."