Michael Suder, regional manager for Wheelabrator Technologies, said that his company had heard from the Army Corps of Engineers that all federal agencies -- not the NSA specifically -- had been asked to investigate the use of alternative forms of energy.
A New Hampshire-based company wants to build a trash-to-energy incinerator next to the National Security Agency at Fort Meade despite NSA's insistence that it doesn't want or need such a plant.
The proposal, which several County Council members learned of during a recent tour of Wheelabrator Technologies' Baltimore plant, has some politicians worried that secret talks are under way between the company and NSA.
"I am very concerned," said Councilman David Boschert, D-Crownsville. "I don't want anything happening without me and the community knowing first. I don't want something snuck into West County."
Boschert said the NSA would be "an eager buyer" of the steam powerthat an incinerator would generate.
But an NSA spokeswoman said not to worry.
"We have nothing going with Wheelabrator," the spokeswoman said. "We are not involved in any negotiations or contractual talks with any commercial vendor."
She said NSA engineers are on a fact-finding mission seeking an alternative backup energy source for the future. "We have a contract with Baltimore Gas and Electric," thespokeswoman said. "Five, 10 or 20 years down the line, that may be adifferent story."
The issue has confused local leaders. Each person interviewed seems to have heard something different, from where the plant would be located to how large it would be. All agreed that the proposals are preliminary.
"We keep hearing people having discussions about this," said Mary Baldridge, Boschert's aide. "There are two or three definite locations talked about. There has been nothing formal from anyone. You are going to get a lot of vague answers, because that is what we keep getting."
Michael Suder, a regional business manager for Wheelabrator, said the NSA plans to solicit bids for some type of energy plant in April. He said the NSA is considering everything from a coal-burning plant to a gas-burning facility to the incinerator.
Suder, who works out of a New Jersey office, said the plant would serve as a backup energy plant for the NSA.
"We have an interest in doing something in that area," he said. "We would like to be selected as a low bidder."
Suder said his company invited the County Council members to tour its Baltimore plant in order to go public with the NSA's plans. No discussions have been set up between Wheelabrator and the NSA, Suder said, adding his company found out about the agency's needs from the Army Corps of Engineers in Huntsville,Ala.
He said he did not know what to make of the NSA's claims that it is not seeking such a facility any time soon.
Wheelabrator first proposed building an incinerator in Anne Arundel in 1989, when the Army declared as surplus 9,000 of Fort Meade's 13,670 acres.
Thecompany wanted to build a combination recycling, trash-to-energy andmodern landfilling program on 200 acres. It would serve Anne Arundel, Prince George's and Howard counties.
But its plans fell through in July 1990, when a deal was struck between the Maryland congressional delegation and the Bush administration preserving 7,600 acres as open space and allowing only 1,400 -- including 400 acres making up Tipton Army Airfield -- to be sold.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will decide by Sept. 30 which 7,600 acres it wants for preservation. That will open the door for the Army to sell the rest of the land.
Wheelabrator has said it is still interested in building the incinerator on Fort Meade land, but this is the first time an alternate site at the NSA has been mentioned.
Suder said the most logical site for an incinerator would be 40 acres opposite the NSA along Route 32. The federally owned land, near Routes 198 and 32, is next to the wastewater treatment facility that serves Fort Meade.
Suder said itwould be a regional plant serving Anne Arundel, Prince George's and Howard counties, similar to the one proposed at Fort Meade.
State Delegate Marsha Perry, D-Crofton, said she doesn't know what to make of the NSA's position that it doesn't want a backup energy plant in the near future.
"When (Wheelabrator) initially told me the NSA wascoming out with this, I had no reason to doubt that," she said. "I thought they were just preparing people for what they want to do."