County scraps plans for waste-to-energy incinerator

The Board of County Commissioners struck down plans Thursday for a regional waste-to-energy incinerator, opting to haul the county’s waste to a landfill with a short-term contract instead.

In a 3-2 vote, Commissioners President Blaine Young and commissioners Kirby Delauter and David Gray voted to kill the $471 million incinerator project by canceling the contract and related permits. Commissioners Paul Smith and Billy Shreve cast the dissenting votes to keep the project on the table while the county explores its options.

“It is absolutely no cost to the county to keep these options open,” Smith said. “To do away with these options is crazy.”

Terminating the project will not cost the county any money as the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority, a quasi-governmental agency that helps the county meet its trash disposal needs, will pay the $500,000 termination fee. Any remaining funds after this payment will be divided between Frederick County and Carroll County, which was once a partner in the project. These funds are from payments the authority has received from Wheelabrator after the service contract was executed in 2010.

However, Young said he saw no point in voting to keep plans for an incinerator, which would burn trash into energy, open since County Executive-elect Jan Gardner planned to scrap the facility after taking office Dec. 1.

“If the county executive-elect says terminate the project, what are you going to do within the next 30 to 60 days to convince her not to?” Young said.

County Attorney John Mathias said Gardner held the power to determine the fate of the incinerator project, not the County Council, if a decision was not made Thursday.

“I think you should terminate the whole thing,” Gardner testified in front of the board and roughly 100 people gathered at Winchester Hall, garnering some applause.

The board unanimously voted in favor of hauling the county’s trash to an out-of-state landfill for $50.95 per ton with a maximum five-year contract.

After considering five proposals, including three out-of-state landfills and two waste-to-energy facilities outside of Maryland, the commissioners narrowed down their options between two landfills with varying contracts.

Commissioners previously leaned toward the first option, which offered contracts extending 25 years at an average of $54.97 per ton, although that cost could escalate annually with the consumer price index and fuel prices. However, the board unanimously chose the second option, which Gardner also favored.

About 30 people testified in front of the board regarding the incinerator project, with a little more than half in favor of scrapping it and the rest advocating for keeping the project on the table to consider it more deeply.

“The incinerator is a waste of energy, a waste of resources (and) a waste of money,” Brunswick resident Ellis Burruss testified. “It would be good to not waste any more time on it.”

Other residents noted the proposed location of the incinerator, near Monocacy National Battlefield, would ruin the park’s beauty and tourism.

However, resident Greg Brown voiced his support for a regional incinerator, noting it was more environmentally friendly than the other options commissioners were considering.

“Even the best landfills … are at least three times more pollutant than a waste-to-energy facility,” Brown said.

Another resident said Europe has been building waste-to-energy facilities for years without the negative consequences that many have brought up.

Jim Warner, CEO of the Lancaster County Solid Waste Management Authority in Pennsylvania, pitched a proposal for hauling the county’s trash, but the commissioners decided to go with an undisclosed out-of-state landfill with a short contract.

“I was actually for this (incinerator project), but with the energy prices and Carroll County dropping out … I’m not,” Delauter said, echoing the sentiments of Young and Gray.