Frederick County officials insist the planned incinerator will not become the financial nightmare that is haunting the city of Harrisburg, Pa., and its cash-troubled trash facility.
They contend the joint incinerator — or “waste-to-energy facility” as some people call it because it burns trash to produce electricity — between Frederick and Carroll counties will be professionally designed and correctly managed.
“The Harrisburg facility has a long history of problems and repeated compliance issues,” said Michael Marschner, special projects manager, at a press conference. “The Frederick project is being developed by the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority, which has a good track record. ... This will be a successful project.”
Marschner said the incinerator problems in Harrisburg stem from improper management and a failure to require “performance bonds” — a written guarantee assuring payment if the contractor fails to execute the contract.
“This was one of several bad decisions by the city,” he said.
The Harrisburg incinerator was built in 1972 for $15 million. It was shut down in 2003, after it was found to be polluting the air with dioxins, leaving Harrisburg $94 million in debt.
The city borrowed more money to rebuild and expand the facility in hopes of making a profit, by burning more trash from neighboring counties and towns. But counties backed out and the city has been left with millions of dollars of debt.
“The situation in Harrisburg is unfortunate,” said Robin B. Davidov, executive director of the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority, an independent state agency that helps counties handle their solid waste. “But they’re in the minority. The process we will use we think will avoid the mistakes they made.”
Tuesday’s press conference, moderated by Robin Santangelo, Frederick County’s spokeswoman, was intended to update the media on the incinerator and ward off concerns it will have the same financial problems as the Harrisburg plant.
For instance, Marschner said Barlow, the contractor hired to build the Harrisburg incinerator, was not qualified to do the work. Barlow also submitted a bid to build Frederick County’s incinerator, but based on their lack of experience was rejected, he said.
“The Frederick Carroll County waste-to-energy project will be a brand new state-of-the-art facility, designed and constructed by Wheelabrator, one of the top waste-to-energy companies in the industry, not a retrofit of an incinerator by an unqualified contractor,” he said.
Marschner said the Maryland Department of the Environment is doing the permitting work for the incinerator, and will begin issuing permits next year.
The Department of the Environment will have its third hearing on the permitting process at 7 p.m. Nov. 1 at Ballenger Creek Elementary School, 5250 Kingsbrook Drive, Frederick.
Under the agreement signed by Carroll and Frederick counties and the authority, Wheelabrator, a New Hampshire-based company, will spend up to $3 million designing and permitting the project.
The estimated cost of the project is $527 million. Frederick’s share is $316 million — about 60 percent — and Carroll would pick up the remainder.
The incinerator will be located at the McKinney Industrial Center, just south of the City of Frederick and next to the county’s wastewater treatment plant. The county hopes to break ground on the incinerator in July or August. Construction is expected to start later that year, Marschner said.
But any lawsuits from opponents could delay the project.
“They [lawsuits] are always a possibility,” Marschner said. “There are no current lawsuits that we are aware of. If someone were trying to stop the project, they would [most likely] file a lawsuit after the permits were issued.”
Marschner said the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority has successfully built incinerators in Baltimore, Harford and Montgomery counties and the city of Baltimore.
But one leading incinerator opponent, who did not attend the press conference, is not confident with Marschner’s assurances.
“I think it would be irresponsible for anyone not to look and make reasonable comparisons to the Harrisburg situation,” said Caroline Eader of Frederick, in an email. “The fact remains that this is one of the largest, if not the largest capital project this county has ever contemplated.”
Eader said the county should look at less costly technologies available, which are conscientious of the environment, health and impacts on the community. “The county should extend the life of the landfill on Reichs Ford Road, since by doing so there would be less to landfill than with an incinerator,” she said.