The battle over whether a Curtis Bay animal rendering plant can rebuild its cooker has moved to the state legislature, where two senators have introduced a bill designed to prohibit an operation that has long drawn odor complaints.
Sen. George W. Della Jr., a Baltimore Democrat, and Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, are pushing legislation that would prevent the Maryland Department of the Environment from issuing a permit for a rendering facility to operate within two miles of a residential area.
Senate Bill 382, which hasn't had a hearing, is tailor-made to stop Virginia-based Valley Proteins from rebuilding its cooker, which was destroyed in a fire two years ago.
Before the fire, the plant rendered animal carcasses, which neighbors said spread a rotten-garbage smell over the Curtis Bay neighborhoods straddling the Baltimore City-Anne Arundel County line. Since the fire, Valley Proteins has been recycling animal grease, a relatively odorless process.
"The bottom line is to stop this facility from reopening as a rendering facility," said Della, who introduced the bill after residents asked for his help. "On hot summer nights, I don't know how the people there stood it. Even riding by in a car, you were sort of overcome by this putrid smell. It came from that facility. There's no question about it."
But already, the bill has problems. Della has learned that it would adversely affect a chicken-rendering facility near Cambridge that he said has not generated complaints. He said he would propose an amendment so the bill would affect only the Valley Proteins operation.
Valley Proteins is planning to fight the legislation. The company has hired lobbyist Carolyn Burridge to help with strategy, and company officials were in Annapolis this week to discuss the bill.
"We are offended by it, and feel it has no place in Maryland's legislature at this time," said Valley Proteins Vice President Michael Smith. "It's a poor attempt to regulate out a business that's viable to Maryland."
Smith said his company provides a valuable service to farmers, supermarkets and meat-processing facilities by recycling animal byproducts into animal proteins, fuels and other useful products. If not for rendering plants, Smith said, the meat processors would have to dump unused animal parts in a landfill.
Smith plans to invest $5.5 million in the expanded Curtis Bay plant, which he said would have state-of-the-art odor controls.
The company is awaiting an MDE hearing for an air-quality permit so it can rebuild.
MDE spokesman Richard McIntire said the agency has not scheduled a date for the hearing and is reviewing information.
Complaints since 1994
Since 1994, the department has received 86 odor complaints about the plant and issued nine notices of violation. There have been no complaints to MDE about the grease-recycling operation.
The Della-Jimeno bill is one result of the Curtis Bay community's attempts to block Valley Proteins from rebuilding its cooker.
Last year, residents formed the Stop the Stink Committee and circulated petitions on both sides of the city-county line.
"Before the fire, all we could do was complain," said Stop the Stink Chairwoman Bonnie Riley. "But now we have the opportunity and the right to show MDE if we have enforceable restrictions."
The bill, if it becomes law, would take effect in October.
In the meantime, Curtis Bay residents are working on their strategic neighborhood plan, which calls for turning industrial Pennington Avenue into a pedestrian-friendly main street.
Riley said she doesn't think keeping the plant two miles from homes is sufficient, but she's grateful for the legislation.
"We'll take all the allies and all the supporters that we can get," she said.