Fly ash showdown is tonight


After months of trying to reach a compromise with BGE, a group of Marley Neck residents says it has given as much ground as it can on a bill that would regulate the utility's fly ash fill.

Residents have been working with county Councilman Carl G. "Dutch" Holland to draft legislation to limit the height and hours of operation of the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. fly ash fill operation next to the Brandon Woods Business Park. They also want a 200-foot buffer around the fill.

But utility officials say they are dissatisfied with the bill and will try to have amendments introduced at tonight's public hearing that would allow them to operate longer and expand capacity at the fill. These amendments, they say, are needed to make the fill cost effective.

Representatives of the Coalition of Communities and Citizens Against Fly Ash say that if the amendments pass, they want the bill killed.

"I personally wouldn't be able to support it," said Carl Hackmann, spokesman for the citizens' coalition. "I would be in favor of yanking the legislation and continuing the battle after [the elections in] November."

Mr. Holland withdrew an earlier version of the bill in the hope that an agreement could be reached between the two groups. The Pasadena Republican said he sides with the residents group, adding that he is exasperated with the utility.

"It's come to a point where we've done everything we could to reach a compromise with BG&E.; But they were not willing to give an inch," Mr. Holland said. "I think BG&E; is surprised this group of citizens and a local politician had enough guts to stand up to a major corporation. And it's time to have a little consideration for the neighborhood they're operating in."

But BGE officials say they have already given the residents a major concession by agreeing to submit to a special exception hearing process every time they apply for a new grading permit to deposit the ash. The grading permits are currently granted through an administrative procedure with the county.

They believe they have given a lot, the citizens' group has given a lot, and agreement is near. "There has been a lot of agreement on a lot of issues, and we're down to a final few," said BGE spokeswoman Peggy Molloy.

BGE has used the fly ash, a waste byproduct from its coal-fired generators at the Brandon Shores and Wagner Point power plants, as structural fill material on two parcels of land across from the power plant since 1982. It then used the land to build the Brandon Woods I and II industrial parks. Utility officials say they are baffled by the controversy over the third phase of fill operation, since they are doing exactly what they did with phases I and II. They intend to turn the last fill area into a business park when it is done.

BGE officials have drawn up several amendments they hope some council member will sponsor that would make the legislation acceptable to them:

* A 200-foot buffer would be required only where the ash fill abuts residential property, instead of the entire perimeter. "We don't think it's necessary where commercial land abuts other commercial land and the right of way," Ms. Molloy said.

* The average depth of the fill would be no more than 20 1/2 feet, rather than using a formula spelled out in the bill. "They're figuring it as if the land were flat. We are trying to take the topography into account," Ms. Molloy said.

* BGE would agree to limit its operating hours to Monday through Friday, from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., as specified in the bill, but only within 1,000 feet of occupied residential property. This would permit operation on Saturdays and the rare Sunday when there is peak power usage, as well as later into the day in parts of the fill.

"If you limit the hours of operation, you get the fly ash backed up at the silo," Ms. Molloy said. "In a worse-case scenario, you'd have to shut the plant down."

* A clause that would limit noise from the fill operation to 55 decibels at the nearest occupied residence or 1,000 feet from the operation, whichever is closer, would be eliminated from the bill. "If you're 1,000 feet away, the sound isn't going to matter," Ms. Molloy said.

The council meeting will begin after a 7:30 p.m. presentation in honor of the 50th anniversary of D-Day. The meeting will be held in the council chambers in Annapolis.

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