Opponents of a $26 million Hawkins Point medical waste incinerator have asked the Maryland Court of Special Appeals for the right to argue their case before a jury.

The Maryland Waste Coalition, an alliance of southern Baltimore City and northern Anne Arundel residents, is appealing an October 1989 decision by a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge who ruled that state law does not allow citizens to mount a court challenge to state environmental officials' decisions to issue air-quality permits.

G. Macy Nelson, attorney for the citizens group, told the appellate court yesterday that the state, in applying regulations to reach a decision on the permit applications, acted as a judge, thereby leaving the decision open for a court appeal.

Jervis S. Finney, attorney for Medical Waste Associates, developers of the incinerator, reiterated the findings of the Circuit Court judge.

"The Maryland Waste Coalition does not like the results, but there are no allegations of illegality or improper methodology in reaching the decision."

Jeffrey E. Howard, an assistant attorney general assigned to the state Department of the Environment, said, "There's no doubt that the agency considered environmental issues. The Maryland Waste Coalition just didn't like the decision. That's why we're here."

After the hour-long hearing, Nelson said the coalition should have the right to appeal because, "The people I represent live in this and are going to have to live with it all their lives."

Calling the incinerator a threat to "public health and well-being," the coalition has sought a court order rescinding state-issued permits that would allow construction of the facility, located just across the northeastern Anne Arundel line in Baltimore.

The Hawkins Point medical waste incinerator -- which environmentalists say would be the nation's largest -- is scheduled to open this fall. It would burn more than 100 tons of infectious and other medical waste daily from hospitals, doctors' offices, laboratories and other medical facilities throughout the region.

In approving the plans, state officials said the incinerator would improve overall air quality by replacing several older incinerators.

Mary Rosso was one of seven coalition members at yesterday's hearing. "We were there giving our support to our case and I think the judges asked some good questions," said Rosso, the group's president. "I'm optimistic. I think we have as good a chance as they do, a 50-50 chance."

Attorneys for both sides said they don't expect the court to rule until at least November.

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