When Army and state officials shared the results of an environmental report with Harford County residents, they thought they were bringing good news: The proposed expansion of a waste-to-energy plant in Joppa would have no appreciable impact on neighbors or nature.
What they got was an earful of old-fashioned skepticism.
"I think your plan stinks," said Ken Anderson, 52. "We little people are just trash to you."
Anderson, one of a dozen or so wary neighbors who testified at last week's hearing on the report, complained that truck traffic along Magnolia Road - the only route to the plant - is already so loud it disrupts residents' sleep. The 80 additional vehicles that would arrive from Baltimore County every night would "make this mess worse," he said.
Others who live on the street, such as William Hollandsworth, said the facility already emits unpleasant odors, leaves a film of white ash on homes and seems to contribute to respiratory problems.
At issue is a major expansion of the 60,000-square-foot waste-to-energy facility near the southern entrance to Aberdeen Proving Ground. Since 1986, the Harford County Resource Recovery Facility on Magnolia Road has incinerated 360 tons of county solid waste a day, producing steam that helps heat and cool buildings on the nearby base.
"It's one reason Harford County is a state-of-the-art place in terms of renewable energy," says Chris Skaggs of the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority, which leases the 13 acres on which the plant sits.
County, Army and disposal authority officials have been working since 2006 on a plan that would boost the plant's capacity to 1,500 tons a day. Baltimore County would use about half that capacity. The site would help create electricity as well as steam for APG at a time when the base is growing rapidly because of the nationwide base realignment and closure process known as BRAC.
The project would cost about $400 million and take as long as six years to complete.
Some residents said that when the plant was first built, officials vowed the site would accept only waste from Harford County.
"Now look what they're doing," said Theodore Anderson, 73, shaking his head. "Just goes to show: Never trust a politician." Theodore Anderson is Ken Anderson's father and a retired General Motors worker who lives nearby.
Neighborhood residents said that although they doubted they could stop the plan, they are heartened by a measure proposed by Harford County Councilman Dion F. Guthrie, whose district includes the facility.
Guthrie says he won't support the expansion unless the county commits to building a new access road to the incinerator from Route 24 - a move that would steer truck traffic through a less-populated area.
"You've got $400 million to spend on this; you can spend $5 million on a new road," Ken Anderson said.
Army officials say the input from the public will become part of the final version of their report, which is due next month. George Mercer, an APG spokesman, said getting the public's views will be "a major part of a long process."
Residents may share written comments with Army engineers through Friday.
The Harford County Council won't vote on the measure until next month at the earliest, Guthrie said.