Two years after Baltimore imposed a moratorium on incinerator construction, a majority of City Council members last night introduced a bill that would allow a new waste-to-energy plant to be built on the site of the Pulaski Highway incinerator.
The proposal to end the five-year moratorium prematurely was greeted with catcalls by environmentalists and representatives of community groups near the incinerator, signaling a bitter fight over the measure.
The proposed $300 million plant would replace the five original furnaces operating at the aging East Baltimore incinerator, which has been fined thousands of dollars for violating air pollution standards.
The owner of the Pulaski plant, developer Willard Hackerman, said in a statement issued yesterday that the new plant would be state-of-the-art and would accept no trash from outside Maryland. It would be built at no cost to the city, he said, and would provide hundreds of construction jobs, while providing the city with annual fees from surrounding localities that would bring their trash to Baltimore.
Mr. Hackerman also said he wants to make the Pulaski site a center "to manufacture recycled materials, if space is available."
If the moratorium is rescinded, Mr. Hackerman promises to pay the city $10 million. The payment would settle claims about mortgage payments and other fees stemming from a 13-year-old agreement between the city and Mr. Hackerman's company. That agreement ended earlier this year.
The bill introduced yesterday also would permit expansion of the Baltimore Refuse Energy Systems Co. plant in South Baltimore.
Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, one of the bill's key co-sponsors, said he introduced it because the administration of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said it was needed. The city had to develop a comprehensive solution to its solid waste disposal problems, he added.
"We're going to solve this once and for all," said the 3rd District Democrat, who chairs the council's committee on health and environment.
Mr. Cunningham was joined by nine other co-sponsors -- a bare majority of the 19-member council.
But the three council members representing the 1st District, where the Pulaski plant is located, said the city did not need
greater trash-burning capacity.
"It is not needed. It is not wanted," said Democrat Perry Sfikas, chief sponsor of the 1992 measure that imposed the moratorium on incinerator construction.
He said at least one of the bill's co-sponsors could be persuaded to oppose it. "I think it's going to be a close fight."
Environmentalists and representatives of community groups near the Pulaski plant also voiced their opposition yesterday.
"It's a betrayal," said Terry J. Harris, head of the local chapter of the Sierra Club and chairman of the Baltimore City League of Environmental Voters.
"Nothing fundamentally has changed since the council passed the moratorium. All that's changed is they've been offered a big wad of money from Mr. Hackerman," he said.
"I'm irate," said Kelley Ray, co-president of the Belair-Edison Housing Service. "I don't think there's been a reasonable assessment of what the needs are."
Although it was not introduced at the Schmoke administration's request, legislation lifting the incinerator moratorium has the mayor's support.
"We think it makes sense environmentally and economically," said Peter Marudas, Mr. Schmoke's legislative aide. "You get rid of something old and substandard and you get a brand-new facility. Plus, you take care of the city's and the region's solid waste needs."
In a memorandum dated May 5, public works director George G. Balog said lifting the moratorium was needed to fulfill agreements Baltimore has made to cooperate regionally in the disposal of solid waste. At current rates of dumping, he said, regional landfill space would be filled in five to 10 years.