Officials discuss where to build incinerator
Moving location could conflict with comprehensive growth plan, cost up to $3M
If Frederick County commissioners decide not to build the incinerator at the McKinney Industrial Center off Md. Route 85 as planned, they could find themselves in conflict with their own long-term plan for growth.
That is why Frederick County Commissioner John "Lennie" Thompson Jr. believes now is the time for his board colleagues to make a decision as to whether they will stay with the McKinney site or build the incinerator elsewhere.
"Preferably we should have the vote soon," Thompson (R) said. "The comprehensive plan can say we're going to put it there,' but if we pick another site we'd have to look to see if it is still consistent with the comprehensive plan. It's very complicated."
Thompson on March 4 asked his board colleagues to reconsider the McKinney site after learning that newly appointed Commissioner Blaine R. Young (R) said during his swearing-in speech March 3 that he would propose moving the incinerator to another site if he has the support of two other commissioners.
Young said he supports the incinerator, but not the location because of its proximity to the historic Monocacy National Battlefield.
Given Young's statements, Thompson said he now believes there is no longer a majority of commissioners who favor the McKinney site. "My preference is that if there is not support for that, we need to know that sooner rather than later," he said.
But moving the incinerator could be a problem for the county, since the comprehensive plan states that it will be built at the McKinney site. It is unclear whether the inconsistency would hold up or even stop the building of the incinerator.
"It would complicate things with MDE [Maryland Department of the Environment," Thompson said. "This is a major issue. This is a big deal. I would imagine the consistency would be on their check list in addition to everything else as part of the permitting process."
The Maryland Department of the Environment must issue permits to allow the county to move forward with the building of the incinerator. Permits are issued when the county meets all the environmental requirements, such as air quality.
Though Jay Apperson, spokesman for MDE, declined to speak about the county's situation, he did say when they issue the permits they will look at the county's zoning and land-use regulations. Much of those are outlined in the comprehensive plan.
The comprehensive plan provides information on development, land use, transportation patterns and water resources.
The plan states that the county will build an incinerator, or what some people call a "waste-to-energy facility" because it burns trash to produce electricity, at the McKinney Industrial Center off Md. Route 85, south of the City of Frederick, near the county's wastewater treatment plant.
Last year, Commissioner David P. Gray (R), former Commissioner Charles A. Jenkins (R) and Thompson voted for the project at the McKinney site.
They believed it was the most practical place to put the facility, because it is on county-owned land in an industrial area.
Commissioners' President Jan H. Gardner (D) and Commissioner Kai J. Hagen (D) voted against it.
Though Gardner has supported the incinerator in general, she has never been in favor of the McKinney site because of its proximity to the historic battlefield. Hagen has been the lone commissioner against the incinerator anywhere in Frederick County.
The McKinney site has come under fire repeatedly from the county's own Planning Commission, because the incinerator's smokestack will be visible from the battlefield.
The commission has tried several ways to derail the project.
In October, it ruled that the incinerator's smokestack and the incinerator's proximity to the battlefield are not consistent with the comprehensive plan because it calls for the preservation of historic sites, such as the battlefield, and the protection of the nearby Monocacy River.
In November, commissioners appealed the Planning Commission's ruling in Frederick County Circuit Court. Five days later, the Planning Commission reversed its ruling to avoid a legal showdown in court.
But the issue did not die.
In February, the Planning Commission ruled that the comprehensive plan should state that an incinerator must be built at least a mile from an historic battlefield, scenic river, school or neighborhood.
On March 4, commissioners voted 4-1 against that ruling. Hagen (D) was the lone vote in opposition.
In an interview Monday, Thompson acknowledged that if commissioners do decide to abandon the McKinney site, it will most likely be in conflict with what is outlined in the comprehensive plan.
"It puts us in a very odd situation," he said."Even if the language does not change that doesn't mean we're going to put it there. The majority [of the board] can still flip."
But abandoning the McKinney site could be costly, according to Gardner. Gardner said it could cost the county up to $3 million because contracts have been signed and design work is under way.
"My opinion is that if we're going to reconsider, someone needs to come up with another viable site and identify the source of the $3 million," she said. "Though it is not the site I voted for, I don't think it is something that can randomly be changed."
Thompson said commissioners need to make a decision before the fall election because of his concern that anti-incinerator opponents will intensify their pressure to abandon the McKinney site.
On June 23, 2009, commissioners voted 3-2 to build the "waste-to-energy facility," as it is called by some people because it burns trash to produce electricity, at the McKinney site.
The project is a partnership between Frederick and Carroll counties, and would cost an estimated $527 million to build. Frederick's share is $316 million (about 60 percent) and Carroll would pick up the remainder. The incinerator would be big enough to burn 1,500 tons per day, and is expected to open by 2015.
The project, which would be built by Wheelabrator Technologies, based in Hampton, N.H., is going through design and permitting process, which could take several years.