A residents' protest outside Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s Brandon Shores power complex yesterday offered passing motorists a strange spectacle of children looking back at them through gas masks, with their mothers nearby in shorts, T-shirts and surgical masks, waving signs.
Eight police officers stood by as about 20 children and 20 adults, all neighbors of the Solley power plant, staged their most public - and most theatrical - display of community outrage yet in the growing dispute over the plant's planned anti-pollution system.
Even before yesterday's protest, the weeks of community meetings and lobbying to stop the company's plans to truck anhydrous ammonia - a common but potentially dangerous chemical - into the north county plant seemed to be having an effect.
BGE officials announced yesterday that the company would delay for 90 days the first shipments of the chemical, which would be used in the plant to reduce pollution.
The first truckloads were scheduled to arrive in November, even though the system would not be used until May. Power plant officials said they were able to get an extension from the manufacturers of the anti-pollution system.
But community organizers have said they will not be satisfied until plans to ship anhydrous ammonia to the Brandon Shores plant are dropped. "Not Now, Not Ever" read a sign at yesterday's protest, where the neighbors stood for an hour by the side of Fort Smallwood Road, urging motorists to honk their horns in support.
Anhydrous ammonia, in extreme exposures, can result in severe lung damage and death.
Yesterday's demonstration was the first in the growing conflict between the power giant and residents. Marcia Drenzyk, a Solley resident leading the community's resistance, said she had wanted a small group of mothers and children to protest, noting that a larger crowd could cause a safety hazard.
It was also the first protest for a number of the sign-wielding demonstrators, like 4-ear-old Brenna Leary, who sat in her stroller, a sign decrying anhydrous ammonia in her lap.
Others, like her mother, Teresa A. Leary, are not used to activist roles but felt this recent battle commanded involvement.
"I've never done this before, but I had to do it for her," she said, pointing at her daughter.
Area residents have said they fear an accident with the pressurized gas, either in the plant or on Fort Smallwood Road, the site of multiple accidents including 10 this year at the intersection where ammonia-filled trucks will turn into the complex.
BGE officials have maintained the safety of their proposed system, most recently in a letter to 8,000 area residents. In that letter, the power company also said it would continue to evaluate other anti-pollution methods.
"We're going to try to reach an agreement that's good for everybody," Bonnie L. Johansen, a power company representative, said yesterday.