It may not carry any legal weight, but the Carroll County Board of Commissioners sent a letter to their Frederick County counterparts Thursday suggesting each party go their own way when it comes to plans for a waste-to-energy incinerator.

The four commissioners present voted unanimously to send a letter that was drafted by the county attorney to notify the Frederick Board of County Commissioners that Carroll wishes to pursue other alternatives to the waste-to-energy incinerator - if the county can do so without incurring the reimbursement obligations set forth in the memorandum of understanding between the two counties.

"The way the contract was structured, if we terminated unilaterally, we would have to pay the minimum of a million and a half dollars of reimbursements ... to pay for our share of the permitting and licensing fees," said Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4.

Board President Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, pointed out that Carroll would be on the hook for $3 million if Frederick County wanted to pursue the project and could not find a replacement for Carroll's 40 percent partnership in the incinerator.

Howard said he had spoken with Frederick Commissioner President Blaine Young a few weeks ago, who had indicated that Frederick County was receiving serious inquiries from other entities interested in being a partial owner in the incinerator should Carroll choose to pull out. But those parties were reluctant to get very far into negotiations as long as Carroll remains a partner, Howard relayed.

"To that end, Frederick County should not hesitate to vigorously pursue and entertain any and all potential substitute equity partners for the proposed waste-to-energy facility," Howard read from the letter at Thursday's meeting. "We offer our full cooperation in this regard."

Howard said it was his understanding that the Frederick County board spent its time Thursday drafting a letter authorizing Carroll to pursue alternatives as well without any of it resulting in a separation from the agreement or abandonment of the agreement or anything that would trigger a penalty.

Rothschild said the board has been criticized for delaying action on the incinerator, but he believes this action will allow Frederick County the freedom to find a replacement partner, removing Carroll's financial commitment to the project.

If Frederick County cannot find a replacement partner for Carroll, the commissioners will then have to decide whether to pull out of the contract or go forward with the plan.

"I think by sending this letter, Carroll County has clearly telegraphed a message that all things being considered, it's less likely rather than more likely that we would want to proceed forward with the incinerator," Rothschild said Thursday in a phone interview. "If Frederick produces a partner that assumes the responsibilities so we don't have to pay the $1.5 million in liquidated damages, I think we can both presume it's quite likely that we would say, 'Where do we sign?'"

Also at Thursday's meeting, the Carroll solid waste work group, which was initiated by Howard shortly after the county waste forum in February, gave an overview of its progress toward evaluating alternative methods of managing the county's solid waste.

Co-chairs Don West and Karen Leatherwood said the committee would recommend increasing educational and awareness efforts about recycling and backyard composting, starting a commercial-scale composting operation for food and yard waste, incentivizing recycling, instituting a pay-as-you-throw waste system where households pay for their volume or weight of trash, creating a construction and demolition waste recycling program and considering a materials recovery facility where the county's waste could further be separated and recycled.

West said the committee is working on its final report, which should be presented to the board by August.