Decision on pyrolysis zoning appeal could come Tuesday night

The Harford County County could decide as early as Tuesday night if a proposed controversial tire pyrolysis recycling operation in Joppa is permitted under the Harford County Code.

The council, sitting as the county’s Zoning Board of Appeals, heard from the applicants and opponents to the proposal during a final argument hearing Sept. 18. The council is the county’s final zoning authority.

Council President Richard Slutzky said a decision would likely either come at the council’s next meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, or the one following, on Oct. 9.

Auston Transfer and Processing LLC is proposing to take shredded tires and place them under high heat to produce a combination of byproducts, including crude oil, carbon black, steel and synthetic gas.

The company owns six acres off Pauls Lane, where it has run a metals and tire recycling transfer business for 17 years. The property is in an industrial neighborhood, but there are residential areas nearby.

Area residents have opposed the use, citing potential environmental damage and increased truck traffic in the community. Some of the opponents appeared before the County Council in October 2017, asking that the proposed use be stopped.

Charles Lembach, of Joppa, filed a zoning appeal last year challenging rulings by Planning and Zoning Director Bradley Killian that the pyrolysis plant is allowed as a matter of right in the Auston property’s CI/commercial industrial zoning classification.

On July 19, county Zoning Hearing Examiner Robert Kahoe issued an opinion that the pyrolysis process proposed by Auston “is not materially similar to any existing use as permitted by the Development Regulations of Harford County, and is, therefore, prohibited.”

Auston appealed that decision, which was the basis of the Sept. 18 final argument hearing before the council, attended by dozens of people opposed to the operation.

The council, as the board of appeals, could uphold the hearing examiner’s decision, overturn it or modify it.

At the hearing, Jefferson Blomquist, the lawyer representing Auston argued that just because something isn’t specifically a permitted use in the county’s permitted uses chart, the use could still be allowed.

cited other specific facilities — grocery stores, bleach manufacturing plants or household product bottling plants — that are not listed specifically in the permitted uses chart, but they all exist in Harford County, because the Standard Industrial Classification chart lists them by their generic product.

“So if the product coal and petroleum, then you’re including them in this category, unless otherwise listed,” Blomquist said.

Pyrolysis it not petroleum refining, he said, despite what the hearing examiner concluded.

“Pyrolysis is converting scrap tires into useable products,” Blomquist said.

Scrap tires are mechanically shredded to remove the steel belts, then the chips are fed into the pyrolysis process to separate the carbon black and the oil component, he explained.

Conversely, petroleum refining distills crude oil or redistills unrefined petroleum derivatives created during the distillation process.

The feed stock, he said, is not crude oil or petroleum derivatives, the feed stock is shredded tires.

“That’s a permitted use unless it’s petroleum refining,” which pyrolysis is not, Blomquist said.

Lembach, however, argued that Auston’s plan “is absolutely petroleum refining” and that it’s not permitted in the commercial industrial district where it’s proposed.

The plant is similar to a refinery, a recycling center and a rubber reclamation center, “none of which are permitted in the commercial industrial district,” Lembach said.

Blomquist claimed in a brief submitted in January that since tires are not a finished product, a tire pyrolysis is not a finished refinery, which is prohibited, Lembach said.

“That is false and misleading,” he said.

The items fed into the process are petroleum products and the end product is petroleum, “it is a refinery,” Lembach said.

“It is just the first stop in distilling petroleum,” he said. “If crude oil were substituted in this exact facility, it would produce distilled fuel oils.”

It must be moved into the general industrial district, he said.

“It’s like putting lipstick on a pig — it’s been a failure everywhere it’s been tried,” Lembach said of the pyrolysis process, which has a history of controversy in the United States.

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