Plant clears zoning hurdle; Arundel officials reject argument by foes of asphalt operation; Pollution concerns; Del. Rosso plans to pressure state to deny permit


County officials have given the go-ahead to a proposed asphalt plant in northern Anne Arundel County that has come under strong criticism from elected officials and residents worried about environmental pollution in the area.

They maintain that important questions about the project's operations remain unanswered, and that the facility does not belong in an area that for years has been affected by poor air quality.

"This is another blatant attempt to pollute North County," said community activist Marcia Drenzyk, referring to the concentration of heavy industry in the area.

"They wouldn't dare put this in Annapolis or Severna Park," Drenzyk said. "At what point is this county going to wise up?"

The future of the $10 million project was thrown into question last month after Del. Mary M. Rosso told state environmental officials that the paving and roofing asphalt manufacturing plant a Quebec-based company wants to build violated county zoning regulations.

County officials, however, determined that Bitumar Inc.'s proposed plant at 6000 Pennington Ave. near Curtis Bay does meet zoning guidelines.

"My next step is to work harder on the state to see if they can deny the permit for some other reason," said Rosso, a longtime environmental activist elected to the General Assembly last year.

State officials have tentatively approved the Bitumar proposal and say they will continue reviewing the project before making a final decision.

"As far as we're concerned, the zoning hurdle is overcome," said Angelo Bianca, a permit administrator with the state's Air and Radiation Management Administration. He said the final permit decision may be appealed through the state's Office of Administrative Hearings.

While the Environmental Protection Agency has placed few restrictions on asphalt plants, Rosso said that the agency is taking a closer look at the facilities. She said the agency is particularly interested in potentially harmful emissions from the loading of trucks at the plants. She said that North Carolina has placed a moratorium on asphalt plant permits.

"I believe that this permit should not be 'business as usual,' and that every aspect of emissions be taken into consideration," Rosso wrote in a letter to Merrylin Zaw-Mon, director of the Air and Radiation Management Administration.

The area has a number of businesses that emit harmful chemicals, she wrote.

Bitumar officials could not be reached to comment.

Reviewers with the Maryland Department of the Environment, who were close to approving air quality permits for Bitumar's project, had suspended action on the proposal until county zoning officials looked into Rosso's claim.

Rosso maintained that Bitumar's proposed business involved the manufacture of asphalt, which the county does not permit, though county law does allow the making of asphalt products.

A chemical engineer Bitumar hired determined that the company's proposed operation is a modification of asphalt, rather than the manufacture of asphalt itself.

The county Office of Law reached the same conclusion, said John A. Morris, a Department of Public Works spokesman.

"The case law suggests that asphalt manufacturing is taking the petroleum and refining it into asphalt tar, as opposed to taking the tar and making a product from it," Morris said. "That's what they've proposed in this particular case."

Opponents vehemently disputed the findings and criticized the county's handling of the matter.

"There's something very, very wrong with PACE [Planning and Code Enforcement] for them to come to a decision like this based on what a chemist hired by Bitumar has said," Rosso said.

Bitumar's application for an air-quality permit from the state refers to the proposed business as a "paving and roofing asphalt manufacturing plant."

"Since when does the word manufacturing no longer mean manufacturing?" Drenzyk asked.

"Both oxidized asphalt and polymer asphalt will be produced at the plant," the application states. It refers to using "raw material asphalt flux" to produce a certain type of asphalt. Bitumar officials have said they import finished asphalt from a refinery, then modify it to make roofing and road materials.

Asphalt plant opponents say they are awaiting the state's response to concerns they raised this summer at public hearings. These include potential noise and odor from the plant, emissions from plant truck traffic, fire safety, and how the quantities of chemical emissions expected from the plant were calculated.

Arundel state representatives Philip C. Jimeno, Joan Cadden and John R. Leopold have joined Rosso in her opposition.

Pub Date: 9/20/99

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