Construction magnate Willard J. Hackerman is seeking a court order to reopen the Pulaski Incinerator in East Baltimore, which he closed five years ago after a city moratorium and a prolonged battle with politicians and neighbors.
Hackerman's suit in Baltimore County Circuit Court requests a court order to nullify a state law that effectively prohibits the 43-year-old incinerator from operating.
The suit alleges that the 1997 law is discriminatory because it shut down only the Pulaski incinerator and allowed the state's other 104 incinerators to continue operating.
The suit says that the law resulted not from sound public policy but from political pressure generated by complaints from East Baltimore communities near the facility.
"The substance and only 'practical effect' of the statute is to close down Pulaski once and for all. No other existing incinerator is affected by the law," the suit says.
The suit shocked neighbors, who thought that the incinerator had been closed for good and that Hackerman was considering other uses for the 11-acre site on Pulaski Highway.
"I'm surprised and disappointed," Peggy Kirk of Armistead Gardens, who fought for the law three years ago, said yesterday.
The law prohibits the operation of an incinerator within one mile of a school and applies only to incinerators that were not operating before Jan. 1, 1997.
Kathryn Rowe, an assistant attorney general, said yesterday that the law does not discriminate.
"The law doesn't just apply to Pulaski, but to any future incinerators," Rowe said.
Del. Peter A. Hammen, the city Democrat who sponsored the bill, said that the law was intended as a public health measure.
"The cancer rates in the communities around that incinerator were much higher than average," he said.
Hammen said he thought Hackerman was considering developing the site into an industrial park.
"I thought the community had finally won on this issue," Hammen said. "But there's obviously a lot of interest in an incinerator because of the money involved."
Hackerman, who did not return phone calls yesterday, purchased the incinerator on Pulaski Highway in 1981 for $41 million.
As part of the purchase agreement, the city leased the 11-acre site and agreed to pay operating fees for the incinerator in exchange for city waste-disposal services, according to the suit.
A longtime ally of state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer when he was mayor in the 1980s, Hackerman began running into roadblocks in the 1990s when he applied for permits to build an additional incinerator at the Pulaski site during the administration of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.
In 1992, the City Council enacted a five-year moratorium on incinerator construction.
In 1995, after years of problems meeting state air-quality standards and failing to persuade city officials to lift the moratorium, Hackerman closed the incinerator.
Hackerman sued in 1995 to reverse the moratorium in Circuit Court in Baltimore County, where his company is based.
Judge J. William Hinkel ruled in Hackerman's favor in 1996, holding that the city moratorium was pre-empted by state environmental laws. Hinkel's ruling set the stage for the state law that is the subject of the suit, Hammen said.
The suit alleges that the city moratorium and the state law crippled Hackerman's efforts to sell the incinerator and upgrade it.
Before 1992, buyers had offered up to $85 million for the incinerator, according to the suit.
Increased environmental regulations also added to upgrade costs, the suit says. Reduced fees collected by trash incinerators also killed the market for a sale, it says.
"Pulaski lost its opportunity to build a profitable replacement incinerator or sell the existing facility," the suit says.