After Joppa and Joppatowne residents badgered county officials for several months to personally explain the waste transfer station proposed for their neighborhood, government leaders and Maryland Environmental Service representatives tried to justify the project with a formal presentation Monday night.
What they received was an angry reception from 70 to 80 people who packed the Joppatowne High School media center.
Tom Hilton, deputy director of the county's environmental services division, along with Steven Tomczewski, executive director of environmental operations for MES, led Monday's presentation.
MES is an autonomous state agency headed by former Harford county executive Jim Harkins and staffed by several people who served under Harkins when he ran the county government.
The MES involvement in the transfer station has engendered considerable resentment in the Joppa community. Sources say the project has been pushed hard by Harkins and his people at MES.
Hilton and Tomczewski explained that the Joppa site – the former Plecker's World of Golf property on Route 7 – was selected because it makes more sense than property the county owns in Street, by the current Scarboro Road landfill, because the Joppa site is close to I-95 and more cost effective.
Unlike the existing incinerator, he said the new one would eliminate truck traffic coming through the heart of Joppa.
Hilton said the original plan to partner with the Army on a new incinerator at Aberdeen Proving Ground has fallen apart, placing added time pressure on the county to have another means of getting rid of its trash in place before the current incinerator at APG closes in 2016.
He said those pressures forced the county to reach an agreement with the group Energy Answers. MES will be operating solid waste transfer stations through Energy Answers.
"The terms and conditions of that pricing were more favorable than with the Army vendor," Hilton said.
Hilton made it clear the county is committed to moving ahead with completing a contract agreement this year in order to have the transfer facility operational by March 2016 when the APG incinerator closes.
"There was a need to have another drop-off facility in the development envelope closer to the highly-populated areas of the county, to make it more convenient," he said, adding the only disadvantage to the Joppa location was the proximity of residential properties on Old Mountain Road.
Hilton also said County Councilman Dion Guthrie's earlier proposal of shipping the trash out on trains was not economically feasible because it would cost $2 million for every 5,000 feet of rail siding, and the amount of rail siding needed would be "tremendous."
Aaron Tomarchio, County Executive David Craig's chief of staff, said the transfer station plan would not be affected by the availability of a planned waste-to-energy site in Baltimore City, which Guthrie said is tied up in lawsuits from environmental groups. That project, planned for the city's Fairfield area, is what MES had been banking on for Harford and other jurisdictions to supply trash for its operation
Guthrie, who represents Joppa and Joppatowne, said he believes there are two contracts on the existing APG incinerator, a steam one and a lease, the latter which is in effect until 2019.
"There is certainly a possibility that that could be extended again," he said.
Hilton replied a lease between the waste disposal authority and the Army indeed expires in 2019; however, the existing incinerator would still have to be razed and replaced if waste to steam operations were to continue there.
"We are exploring options for re-use of that facility [with other operations]," he said, implying the possibility of using it for waste disposal was out.
Guthrie suggested other transfer station sites, such as a property behind the Holly Hills Motel in Aberdeen, but county officials ruled that out.
Tomarchio, who was representing Craig at the meeting, said there were a number of discussions about whether to build on Route 40, emphasizing the county's proposal "reduces our cost to dispose of your trash."
He also defended the county's investment in the Route 40 area, which some residents questioned. He pointed out the new schools that were recently built and a new playground at Magnolia Middle School.
Tomarchio also pushed back on the controversy over the county's $2.9 million purchase of the Plecker property, when a neighboring site was appraised for much less.
"I don't think the county feels it overpaid for the property," he said.
Dog and pony show
Residents were not mollified by any of the explanations, saying the proposal was a "done deal" and calling the presentation "a dog and pony show."
They pressed the officials about what the county and MES intend to do about increased traffic, noise and other adverse impacts such a facility will have on their community.
Stephen Puopolo, of Edgewood, said the transfer station will affect more than just the Joppa area.
"The problem is, the county executive decided to purchase this land without talking to the community first," Puopolo said. "I can tell you it's not just a Joppa problem. It's going to be Edgewood, it's going to be Abingdon, all these places that Route 7 goes through... People are making decisions without the approval of this community."
Dale Gomez, of the Gunpowder community, said the county should not put anything "icky" in a community gateway, which Joppa is.
The bottom line for most in the room seemed to be that Joppa should not become the home for the rest of the county's trash.
Gloria Moon said the Joppa community's master plan, which is about 16 years old, shows residents do not want any type of waste facility in the area.