Carroll County commissioners are scheduled to be updated this morning on a plan to join with Frederick County in building a waste-to-steam facility that eventually could save both counties millions of dollars but which has drawn opposition because of environmental concerns and large upfront costs.
Carroll Public Works Director J. Michael Evans will present the commissioners with a status report on a proposed facility to be constructed in Frederick County that could offset county's needs for dumping trash in landfills or transferring waste to neighboring states. Mike Marschner, director of Frederick County's water, sewer and solid waste agency, presented a similar report to Frederick commissioners Feb. 3.
If both counties agree, groundbreaking could come as soon as 2011, and the site could be up and running by 2015.
Two sites are being considered for the conversion plant, which is expected to cost $527 million, with 60 percent of the costs being paid by Frederick County and 40 percent by Carroll County. Evans says the plant would reduce by 90 percent the volume of trash the two counties would have to handle. It would incinerate 200,000 tons of trash a year and generate enough electricity to meet the annual needs of 1,000 homes.
"When you think in terms of landfill, you're basically developing a hole in the ground, and that resource is diminishing every time you put something into it. Somewhere along the line you have to build another landfill," Evans said.
"The county decided years ago that they wanted to preserve their landfill capacity as much as possible, because they're very difficult to place. In addition, there are environmental issues associated with landfilling that have to be considered.
"When you look at the waste to energy, the expectation is that that plant will continue to operate with good maintenance and good service for at least 50 years. Our landfill was opened in 1989, and if we had developed it and filled it without taking our waste any place else, we would have been at capacity in three years."
Carroll County is anticipating $31.2 million in annual debt service, operations and waste transportation costs, while Frederick County is anticipating $42.7 million in those costs. Carroll anticipates generating $17.8 million annually in electricity and metals recovery revenue, while Frederick anticipates generating $17.4 million.
Marschner said that while the cost to operate the facility would be more than that of transporting waste over the first 10 years, by 2025 the facility's costs would become less and by the end of the 30-year bond issue the facility could save Frederick $42.7 million.
But not everyone is convinced that waste to energy is a good idea. In Frederick County, residents concerned about the cost and environmental issues are planning to stage protests before the start of public hearings on the facility scheduled for Tuesday and Thursday in Frederick.
"Some of the concerns are how the facility might harm the environment by toxins released in the air or toxins from the landfill," said Caroline Eader of Frederick, one of the residents coordinating the protest. "Most of the stuff people throw out can be recycled or composted. Why do we want to burn resources that have a finite life?"
Eader said some Frederick residents incorrectly assumed that revenue from electricity sales would pay for the debt service and said some residents are concerned with how the transportation of waste and ash will affect traffic.
"I think it's a bad investment," said Ellis Burruss of Brunswick. "With a good effort to reduce the amount of waste we buy, recycle what we do use and produce less of it, the amount left over does not justify the investment they're talking about."