Undaunted by the combination of touring a smelly waste incinerator on a day that was already an inferno, two of Carroll's commissioners left the Harford Waste-to-Energy Facility Friday with a sweeter attitude toward such a plant in their own county.

Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy Jr. said he was very encouraged to hear the plant doesn't preclude aggressive recycling and composting.

For several months, commissioners have been planning to visit waste-to-energy plants. Friday's tour of the 3 1/2-year-old Harford plant was the first, with a September visit planned to a much newer one in Fairfax County, Va.

Inside the Harford plant, about 900 tons of garbage covered about a quarter of the wide area called the "tipping floor," waiting to be loaded into four incinerators and come out the other end as ash.

The ash, about one-eighth the volume of the trash before it was burned, is buried in a landfill. The point is to savelandfill space and sell the steam energy produced by the burning process.

The plant is operated by a private firm, Consumat Systems Inc. Four Harford County employees monitor the trash to ensure it isn'thazardous or coming from outside the county. They also keep track ofthe amount, for which Harford

County pays Consumat about $27 a ton for disposal.

James E. Slater Jr., Carroll's director of the Department of Natural Resource Protection, arranged the tour and accompanied Lippy and Commissioner President Donald I. Dell. Slater said thecommissioners will see a big difference between the Harford plant and the newer Virginia plant they will visit in September.

"It's cleaner, it's better operated, it's newer," Slater said of the Virginia plant, which had to adhere to tighter emission standards that have changed since 1987, when Harford went on line.

But the commissionerswere impressed by the Harford plant.

Dell said he had reservations about Carroll and three other counties jointly operating a much larger incinerator, because of the cost of transporting garbage and the intricacies of deciding fairly which county hosts the plant.

"I think this (a plant the size of Harford's) is doable for Carroll County, without having to bother the other counties," Dell said.

"It's made a firm believer out of me, and I was on the other end before," Lippy said. He said his main concerns had been emissions, but that he was encouraged to hear such plants have tougher standards than do plants that burn coal or oil.

"Also, the philosophy that you need a minimum amount of trash to make the thing run" was Lippy's other concern, he said. "To me, that encourages trash generation. But it might not, either."

Harford's plant burns about 360 tons a day in the fourincinerators that run 24 hours, seven days a week, said Robert S. Bradley, plant engineer.

Carroll now generates about 400 to 450 tonsof trash a day, Slater said, but that amount will decrease once the county recycles more and begins composting all yard waste.

The Harford plant cost about $26 million to build in 1986, said William F. Davidson, project manager for the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority, a quasi-state agency.

The authority helped get the plant built by selling a bond issue in a public-private partnership with Consumat, owned by the Little Rock, Ark. -based ENSCO.

Davidson saidhe wasn't sure how much more such a plant would cost to build today,because it would depend on size and a different set of emission standards and equipment than the plant Harford uses.

Davidson said Harford has a unique advantage of a ready customer -- the U.S. Army at Aberdeen Proving Ground -- willing to buy as much steam energy as the plant can generate.

While talking with Carroll Commissioners, Davidson urged them to make sure they have a customer who will buy a specific amount of energy even if it doesn't always need it, and to contract with a healthy and reliable company to run the plant.

Dell andLippy said the potential customers in Carroll would be the Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville or an industrial park in South Carroll.

Sniffing from just outside the plant, Lippy remarked to Dell and Slater that the smell was "Typical, but it's not offensive."

Dell said it was no worse than a livestock farm.

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