The Schmoke administration will take steps next month to condemn the Pulaski Highway Incinerator and plans to turn the aging East Baltimore plant into a water treatment or recycling facility.
Baltimore's Board of Estimates approved a $100,000 contract yesterday with attorney Charles S. Fax to handle the condemnation proceedings, which by law must begin with the approval of an ordinance by the City Council.
The board's action comes just a week after the owner of the incinerator, politically influential businessman Willard Hackerman, filed suit against the city, claiming it was keeping him from fixing air pollution violations at the plant or replacing it with a new trash-to-energy facility.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday that the city decided to seek condemnation of the plant more than a year ago, but that Mr. Hackerman wanted to negotiate.
"That's what we tried to do over the past year," the mayor said. "Ten days ago, the negotiations broke down. We informed his counsel that as soon as the City Council was back from its recess [Jan. 24], we would begin condemnation proceedings."
If successful, the city would use the property for water treatment or recycling, Mr. Schmoke said, but "it's not our intention to build" a new trash-burning facility.
Mr. Hackerman, who bought the incinerator for $41 million in 1981, declined through a spokeswoman to comment yesterday on the city's plans to condemn the plant. Last week, Mr. Hackerman, the head of Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., said he filed his $75 million breach-of-contract suit because the city had broken off talks. He said he was "personally hurt" by the city's actions.
Under the contract, amended in 1985, the city agreed to pay 85 percent of the incinerator's operating costs through 1996. City officials, however, say the facility is outdated and the contract has cost the city millions of dollars.
Mr. Fax, who had been handling the negotiations with Mr. Hackerman for the last several months, has handled land use and environmental matters for several local government bodies in the state.
He is a member of the law firm of Shapiro and Olander, whose partners include Ron Shapiro, Mr. Schmoke's campaign treasurer and one of the mayor's key political advisers.
Also yesterday, the board approved a $25,000 contract with attorney C. Edward Hitchcock to set up a corporation to operate Harrison's Pier 5 hotel and restaurant complex in the Inner Harbor, which the city agreed to take over last week at a cost of $5 million.
Earlier this year, Mr. Hitchcock received a $50,000 contract to conduct a study of the city's public housing authority.