Baltimore County’s inspector general is investigating a complaint that a fundraising event for County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. influenced his administration’s decision to approve plans for what would be the county’s first privately run waste transfer station, according to a person with knowledge of the investigation.
The Eagle Transfer Station, which would accept garbage to be hauled outside the county for disposal, would be at the site of a former scrap metal processing plant on Rolling Mill Road in Dundalk. The president of Baltimore Recycling Center LLC, which would run the station, held a political fundraiser for Olszewski in June 2021.
Documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun show that the county’s solid waste bureau objected to the proposal, saying it would cost the county more than $1 million annually in lost revenue because currently the only option for trash haulers in the county is to pay to use the county-run transfer stations.
But the administration eventually advanced the project, which is now under consideration by the County Council.
The person who filed the complaint with the inspector general shared it with The Sun and said they were interviewed by the inspector general’s office this year. The person requested anonymity because they feared retaliation.
Inspector General Kelly Madigan declined to confirm or deny the existence of an investigation by her office.
In an interview Friday with The Sun, Olszewski said the fundraiser held by Baltimore Recycling Center President Jack Haden did not influence county officials’ decision to advance the project.
Olszewski said he and Haden did not discuss the project at the fundraiser. The county executive said he asked staff members to “look into” and follow up on Haden’s request, but never directed them to make a decision one way or another.
“We never make decisions based on political contributions,” he said. “We never have and we never will. There are people who have approached us and contributed [and asked us] to look into things that we haven’t done, because that’s not how we do business in Baltimore County.”
Olszewski, a Democrat, is seeking reelection this year to a second, four-year term.
He said he was unaware of the inspector general investigation.
The county owns and operates transfer stations in Cockeysville, Halethorpe and White Marsh.
In November 2020, Haden formally proposed his project in writing to the county’s public works department.
Such a project requires a number of state and local approvals, including an amendment to the county’s 10-year “solid waste management plan.”
In January 2021, staff in the county’s Department of Public Works and Transportation prepared a “decision memo” outlining the agency’s position on the company’s request. It opposed Haden’s proposal, writing that the county did not need the station and that it could cost up to $1.14 million annually in lost revenues.
That’s because trash haulers pay $8 per ton to use the county-run transfer stations. Eagle Transfer Station would draw business from those facilities, the staff wrote. Additionally, the value of the station would become “incalculable,” and it likely would be sold eventually to a large regional disposal company, they wrote.
“This would cause an ‘upset’ of current County contracts and revenue streams regarding the long-established flow of [municipal solid waste] in the region,” the memo states.
The memo pointed out that the administration rejected a proposal for a waste transfer station at Tradepoint Atlantic in Sparrows Point for those reasons.
In February 2021, D’Andrea Walker, who heads the Department of Public Works and Transportation, asked staff to forward the memo to County Administrative Officer Stacy Rodgers for the administration to consider.
Over the next few months, Haden reached out to county officials, including Michael Beichler, then the chief of the solid waste bureau, to ask about the status of his request, emails obtained by The Sun show.
Walker and Beichler both wrote that the request was on hold until the county finished a five-year tactical plan on waste management and recycling.
In May 2021, Haden invited people to his Olszewski event at a Cockeysville home.
“I am Sponsoring a private Fundraiser for Johnny O,” Haden wrote in a May 19, 2021, email accompanying the invitation. “It’s a critical time for us and I believe Johnny is doing more for us than anyone has. Please come and enjoy some great food and talk to Johnny one on one.”
People could pay $300, or $400 a couple, to attend.
The email was sent to residential and commercial trash haulers, according to a person with knowledge of the event.
Haden declined to comment on the fundraiser, which was first reported by the Baltimore Brew. He did tell The Sun he was unaware of an inspector general investigation.
The day after the fundraiser, Walker emailed Beichler to ask the status of Haden’s request.
“Did this decision memo ever move forward?” Walker asked.
“Don’t know — no feedback,” Beichler replied.
The emails between county officials show that Olszewski asked his staff for a decision about Eagle Transfer Station.
“This is an item that came directly from the CE [county executive] to meet with Mr. Haden to hear his proposal,” Walker wrote July 1, 2021. “I did that about two weeks ago but I needed to close the loop with the final recommendation.”
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In a July 2 email, Lauren Buckler, deputy director of the department, wrote: “The CE has asked for a decision soon.”
In the interview with The Sun, Olszewski said he frequently asks his staff to check on issues brought to him by constituents.
“Any issue that is presented to us, I ask our staff to look into it,” he said.
Haden met Aug. 3 with Walker and Rodgers, according to the emails reviewed by The Sun. Walker approved the proposal the following month. It still needs other approvals from the county and state.
In written responses to questions about the project and fundraiser, a spokeswoman for Olszewski said leadership of the county Department of Public Works and Transportation “believes there is a critical need for additional trash transfer capacity in the County” because of a significant increase in garbage over the last three years.
The county landfill is projected to reach capacity by 2027, so “there is an urgent need to increase our ability to transfer more trash out of the County,” she wrote, adding that over the past three years, the county has seen a 50% increase in the amount of solid waste it “must landfill, incinerate or transfer out.”
The county planning board signed off on Haden’s plan this March after a hearing. The County Council is set to vote July 5 on amending the county’s solid waste plan to allow the Eagle Transfer Station.