Pulaski incinerator to close, owner says

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Pulaski Highway incinerator, an outmoded facility that has troubled nearby East Baltimore residents with its smoke and smell for years, will cease operations, its owner has announced.

In a brief statement issued late Thursday, Willard Hackerman, president of the Pulaski Co., said he would "continue to pursue" the construction of a new waste-to-energy plant on the site of the incinerator. He said he was "confident" that a city ban on incinerator construction, which he is challenging in court, would be "lifted in the near future."

The announcement of the closing of the incinerator in the 6700 block of Pulaski Highway comes two months after the city ended a 14-year agreement with the incinerator that cost more than $50 million as its share of operating costs. Environmentalists and community leaders applauded the news, even as they vowed to fight to keep the moratorium.

"It's great," said Terry J. Harris, chairman of the City League of Environmental Voters. "People have been waiting for that for years."

As for ending the moratorium, which has two years left to run, he said: "We've fought him successfully before on that . . . I'm confident we can win again."

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said through his spokesman: "I signed the [moratorium] ordinance and we will defend it in court."

Mr. Hackerman, a politically-influential construction magnate who owns Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., did not say in his statement when he would close the incinerator, or whether he immediately would tear it down. His office said yesterday that he was out of town.

An employee at the trash-burning plant near the Baltimore County line said yesterday the incinerator still was operating. "I don't think they've set a date yet" for closing the plant, said the employee, who declined to give his name.

In his statement, Mr. Hackerman gave no reason for his decision but said that he was acting "voluntarily."

But the company had been in recent discussions with state and federal officials about its inability to meet environmental standards, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment said yesterday. It has been estimated that the cost of retrofitting the plant to meet those standards would be about $60 million.

"They've been having difficulty trying to comply with several consent orders against them," said Quentin Banks, an MDE spokesman. "They've got large amounts of carbon dioxide and visible emissions coming out of the incinerator."

Others speculate that the Pulaski incinerator became a money-losing proposition after Baltimore ended the agreement reached in 1981 by then Mayor William Donald Schaefer that had the city pay the incinerator $1.7 million a year in fees for dumping trash there. Baltimore now takes all the trash it does not recycle or put in a landfill to the BRESCO plant in Southwest Baltimore.

"There's not enough trash in this area to justify this incinerator, let alone a new one," said 1st District City Councilman John L. Cain, whose district includes the neighborhoods around the incinerator.

Kelley Ray, past president of the Belair-Edison Community Association and a long-time Pulaski foe, said she was "elated" about the news of Pulaski's closing, but "apprehensive" about the unanswered questions.

"I've got to be cautious," said Ms. Ray, who is running for one of three 1st District council seats in September's Democratic primary.

A bill to have the moratorium lifted was introduced in the council in May 1994 but never has come to a vote. The bill would have allowed Mr. Hackerman to replace Pulaski with a proposed larger-capacity, $300 million waste-to-energy plant.

In June, Mr. Hackerman filed suit against the city, seeking to have the moratorium overturned.

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