After years of delays and questions about its environmental impact and permit compliance, the proposed power plant on Baltimore's Fairfield peninsula is slated to begin full-time construction next year.
Energy Answers spokeswoman Elona Cadman said the company is making energy sales and securing waste contracts that will allow for financing of the waste-to-energy project adjacent to Brooklyn Park.
The project's website calls it an alternative to a landfill and an environmentally friendly energy source of energy. Opponents say it is an incinerator that will release dangerous chemicals into the air of an area known for pollution.
Cadman said the plant will bring jobs to the area. "The whole peninsula is destined to be reinvigorated," she said.
Greg Sawtell, an organizer with human rights organization United Workers, said the plant would be "hitting an already hard-hit area" with air contamination linked to health problems like asthma and lung damage.
Community groups have fought the project for years. Now they await a response from the state Department of the Environment regarding claims Energy Answers ceased construction for over 18 months, in violation of its Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity.
"That's the focus now," Sawtell said. "To get that in front of (the department) and the governor, that this is an issue of concern."
Jay Apperson, the department's deputy communications director, said the office is reviewing an August letter from 19 environmental, health, faith and social justice groups, including Sawtell's.
Leah Kelly, an attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that handles environmental law issues, also signed the letter. She said the construction timeline is important because air quality requirements get stronger and pollution control technology improves over time.
"If they've gotten the permit a while ago, they were looking at the best control technology from that time," she said.
Cadman said limited construction has continued, with work such as pile driving, concrete crushing and building removal.
Sawtell said opponents of the power plant would rather see the land used for investment in other projects, such as a solar energy facility. "As long as this incinerator is limping along, it's blocking potential for alternative development," he said.
Items such as mattresses, tires and old books should be sorted and recycled, Sawtell said, instead of disposed of at a power plant.
"There's small cottage industries for all this stuff," he said.
Kelly said Energy Answers' proposed stack would emit chemicals such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, which could reach areas in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties and can worsen asthmatic conditions.
She said Maryland law prevents an "incinerator" from being built within a mile of a school, but the Fairfield project is considered a "power plant" because "they will be shredding municipal waste."
The power plant will be within one mile of two schools, Sawtell said, and there are 18 schools within a three-mile radius.
Meleny Thomas, director of the Brooklyn Park youth program Rediscovering Me Clubhouse, said many residents weren't aware of the proposed plant until protests last year by students at Curtis Bay's Ben Franklin School. She's concerned for the young people she works with.
"You don't know what the chemicals will do to our bodies," she said. "My question to whoever is in charge would be: Would you live in this community and have an incinerator there?"
Cadman said opponents "utilize unverified and incorrect information to rally the troops" against the project.
"Anybody who understands this technology knows there's no way the state or federal government would permit a facility to combust waste and make energy that wasn't clean," she said.
Cadman said the power plant is an environmentally friendly waste management solution, not an incinerator.
"They talk about the deadly emissions and toxins that will come from the stack," she said. "Steam comes out of the stack. It's clean emissions, and it's highly regulated."
Construction of the project was halted in 2014 because company officials didn't buy enough emissions credits to offset expected air pollution, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Cadman said the company has since purchased the proper credits and construction has resumed.
"We expect to move quickly now."