Baltimore officials have reached a verbal agreement with the owner of the Pulaski Highway incinerator to end a waste disposal arrangement that has cost the city millions of dollars in operating subsidies.
Ending the 13-year-old pact would save the city at least $4 million annually, officials said yesterday.
It also would release the city from an obligation to pay up to $60 million to renovate the incinerator to meet environmental standards, they said.
If finalized, the agreement would stop city plans to condemn the incinerator, and would settle a breach-of-contract suit filed against the city last month by the incinerator's owner.
The agreement was reached Monday between Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Willard Hackerman, who bought the incinerator from the city in 1981 and who heads Whiting-Turner Construction Co.
It was disclosed yesterday during a meeting of top city officials that preceded the weekly Board of Estimates session.
The agreement came just hours before the Schmoke administration was to introduce City Council legislation to condemn the incinerator. Officials were still waiting yesterday for Mr. Hackerman's written confirmation of the agreement.
Efforts by The Sun to reach Mr. Hackerman yesterday were unsuccessful.
The agreement would allow the Pulaski Co., headed by Mr. Hackerman, "to stay on the land and try to build a new facility" meeting city, state and federal regulations, the mayor said.
Mr. Hackerman has said for two years that he wants to replace the Pulaski incinerator with a $200 million facility that would convert waste to energy.
But the city is in the second year of a five-year moratorium on incinerator construction.
Several area jurisdictions that had been relying on landfills are eyeing incineration as a means of waste disposal.
The Pulaski incinerator is one of two waste-burning facilities in Baltimore. The other is the Baltimore RESCO plant in the southwest section of the city.
Mr. Schmoke said Mr. Hackerman "knows I believe that the region needs two incinerators." But the mayor did not offer to support Mr. Hackerman's efforts to replace the Pulaski incinerator, saying he would take a "wait-and-see attitude" toward the project.
And public works Director George G. Balog said there was "absolutely not" any understanding that the city would support Mr. Hackerman's efforts to build a new facility in exchange for releasing the city from its waste disposal arrangement.
That arrangement was made when Mr. Hackerman bought the incinerator in 1981 from the administration of then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer, and was amended four years later.
The city agreed to pay 85 percent of the incinerator's operating costs, at least through 1996.
In recent years, that payment has averaged about $4 million a year, say city officials, who have criticized the 38-year-old
incinerator as outmoded and inefficient.
The Maryland Department of the Environment last year cited the incinerator for air pollution violations and fined it $40,000. It has been allowed to continue operating under a consent agreement requiring that improvements to control pollution be made by April.
The city has been sending 73,000 tons of trash annually to the Pulaski incinerator; that trash will now go to the RESCO plant on Washington Boulevard, Mr. Balog said.
The incinerator had also been taking 110,000 tons of trash annually from Baltimore County. It was unclear yesterday what the agreement would mean to the county.
"We're just hearing of this. We have to explore our options," said John Markley, a county budget analyst.
Terry J. Harris, chairman of the Baltimore Group of the Sierra Club, said the agreement was "great for the city," but expressed concern that Mr. Hackerman would try to get the incinerator moratorium lifted. "If we have to fight the same battle again, we'll do it."
Besides saving the city millions of dollars in annual operating subsidies, the agreement could boost revenue at the city's Quarantine Road landfill.
Baltimore could receive several hundred thousand dollars a year in tipping fees from ash generated by additional trash burned at RESCO, officials said.
RESCO pays landfill tipping fees of $11 per ton for ash; under its deal with the city, the Pulaski incinerator paid no tipping fees.