Officials in holding pattern on waste-to-energy

Young: Incinerator's future is uncertain
Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
An effort to build a waste-to-energy incinerator in Frederick County remains on ice as the state weighs a trio of environmental permits. County officials expected the permitting process would be wrapped up by August. More than a month later, they are not sure how much longer it will take. With leaders from Frederick County, Carroll County and possibly other jurisdictions locked in a holding pattern, Commissioners President Blaine Young says the fate of the waste-to-energy project is unclear. "I think it's a coin toss," Young said. "I don't feel confident to say the project is dead. I don't feel confident to say the project is a go." Frederick County leaders are waiting to determine whether it still makes financial sense to build a facility that would consume trash to generate electricity. Carroll County, a partner in the project, wants to back out, but must find a replacement or pay a fine. And no replacement partner is going to show serious interest until the project secures its approvals from the Maryland Department of the Environment, Young said."Nobody really knows where these permits are at and where the issue is here," he said. A spokeswoman for the state agency wrote in late September that "MDE is still working through the permit process" and doesn't have a set date for completion.

Shades of Green

Saving the Planet Touches Almost Every Area of Frederick County Living, and it Comes with a Price Tag
Frederick Magazine
Linda Norris-Waldt
Save the Bay. Buy recycled. Reduce your carbon footprint. Conserve water. The list goes on and on. And so does the number of programs and projects that aim to improve Frederick County’s environment— and with them, the debate about where lies the responsibility: Who pays, who is inconvenienced by change, and how much habit-breaking is practical when the returns aren’t immediately evident. A myriad of regulations, public education programs and businesses have brought environmental initiatives to our doors. The new programs, like mandating rain barrels and rain gardens for new subdivisions, roll in with great fanfare like ocean waves, supported by public demand. And then they are either delayed or abridged because of cost, impact or feasibility. A constant rebalancing is always taking place. Kirby Delauter, a Frederick County commissioner whose work in construction takes him into the field where he has direct encounters with environmental regulations, has been no fan of the feasibility of government programs regulating the environment. They have “grown exponentially and for no good reason other than to expand the role of government in our lives,” he says. “Stormwater has been ruled by courts to not be a pollutant, yet we still seem to have governing bodies that can’t let go of the power and control of regulating the lives of personal property owners.” Kai Hagen, a community activist and former county commissioner known for championing environmental causes, has a differing view. “If people knew the real environmental and economic costs and benefits associated with the choices we make—as a community—I’m convinced we would be making a lot more responsible choices than we are now,” he says. Here’s how current environmental programs in Frederick County touch water, land and lives.

Frederick County to continue, possibly expand municipal recycling program

Frederick News Post
Bethany Rodgers
Bottles and cans might soon have to cover less distance to land in a recycling bin near Brunswick or Thurmont. The Board of County Commissioners decided Thursday to continue and possibly expand the county's municipal recycling program. Middletown, Walkersville and Emmitsburg each have the recycling drop-off sites, and under the pilot program, have received county dollars to reimburse them for running the centers. Commissioners on Thursday unanimously opted to make the recycling incentive program permanent and set aside $50,000 to fund the current sites and support Brunswick and Thurmont if they join the program. "This is a program we started. It's been very, very popular. So this is to take it to another level," Commissioners President Blaine Young said. The fiscal 2014 funding levels represent a reduction from last year, when the program was budgeted for up to $100,000. However, Phillip Harris, the county's superintendent of solid waste management, said the three participating municipalities together used only about $12,300 of the available funds.

Recycling: What happens to all those plastics and cans?

Frederick News Post
Margie Hyslop
Ever wonder how the jumble of recyclables tossed in your one-bin-takes-all cart gets sorted so it all can be shipped off to become new products? The answer is inside a building in Howard County which receives much of the recyclable material collected in Frederick County. Winding through the 50,000 square-foot Recycle America plant off U.S. Route 1 in Elkridge is an ingenious array of conveyor belts interspersed with a series of staged mechanical and magnetic filters. The apparatus fills most of the structure and separates most stuff stashed in the carts that Frederick residents have been wheeling to the curb since the county expanded its recycling program to a single stream system in 2009. At the plant — one of several in Maryland owned by Waste Management, the world’s largest collector and marketer of recyclables — workers first weigh each load and record where it came from. Then all the material goes onto a conveyor belt where workers watch for large items and plastic bags and remove those by hand. Tons of paper, cardboard, metals, glass, plastic run down the belt to rows of rotating disks gauged to sort materials by pushing some items over the top and allowing others to fall through and move for further sorting. Large pieces of cardboard are snagged early and sent to storage for baling.

Composting at Home

Carroll County Times
According to a report by the EPA, in 2010 Americans produced around 250 million tons of municipal waste, or everyday items used and thrown out. 250 million tons! And that’s only one country’s everyday garbage; that number doesn’t include the commercial, industrial, or agricultural waste that America produces. Another statistic to chew on is that also in 2010, the average individual waste generation was 4.43 pounds per person per day. Imagine how large would be the entire world’s collective garbage pile! Have you ever thought about what you can do at home to reduce your impact on waste generation? Composting is one solution that is both easy and highly beneficial. It is estimated that more than half of municipal waste is compostable, but the amount of waste that is actually composted falls far below half. Composting enriches your soil, saves you money, reduces landfill waste, recycles kitchen and yard waste, and is good for the environment. You can start at home by creating a pile of “green” and “brown” items.

WTE endgame

Frederick News Post
Fred Ugast
It’s no surprise that the Carroll County Commissioners voted last month to earmark $3 million in reserves to pay a termination penalty if they withdraw from the partnership with Frederick County to build a bi-county waste-to-energy facility and a suitable replacement partner does not step in. Those commissioners made clear long ago that a majority will not support Carroll County’s participation in the project. But by putting their money where their mouth is, the commissioners have taken a small but important step in moving toward the endgame of the divisive and unfortunate saga that this project represents. Sometime in the next few weeks or months, the Maryland Department of the Environment is likely to issue the permits necessary to allow construction of the project to move forward and set the stage for the crucial step of preparing and selling the bonds to finance it. I won’t rehash the pros and cons of this project. Since the 2005 Beck Report on Frederick County’s waste disposal options, this issue has been debated in great detail on almost every conceivable front, including its potential environmental, economic, public health and historical/cultural impacts. People whose opinions I respect have come down on both sides of this debate, and we can stipulate that this is a complex and difficult subject. I think building it would be a huge financial blunder, but I can respect that others think those concerns are overblown or trumped by other elements. I don’t know whether it will ultimately get built or not, but I hope we can cool the rhetoric enough for the Frederick County Commissioners to take another look and use Carroll County’s decision as an opportunity rather than a challenge. While WTE supporters can legitimately point to costs and risks of not moving this project forward after all these years, the financial risk to taxpayers deserves a fresh review using revised assumptions and greater sensitivity analysis than presented to date.

Time to junk trash-to-energy programs like one in Newport?

St. Paul Pioneer Press
Bob Shaw
A program based in Newport burns garbage to generate electricity. But it is also burning something else -- money. If it burned 30,000 dollar bills every day for 19 years, that would almost equal the $219 million in public subsidies it has received through 2013. As generators of electricity, waste-to-energy plants nationwide cost five times as much as solar generation, and 50 times more than natural gas. As a way to keep garbage out of landfills, the plants are outshone by programs that do the same thing at no cost to taxpayers.

Wasted food

Frederick News Post
Recycling has become a cornerstone of our lives here in Frederick County. The blue bins that line the streets once every two weeks in front of our homes have become a familiar sight. We’ve come a long way from the 1991 pilot program for 4,000 households that launched recycling in the county. But an article in The New York Times recently made us wonder if we couldn’t go a little bit beyond the plastic bottles, aluminum foil, paper and cardboard that make up most of what we throw in our recycling carts. The Times article reported that following a highly successful pilot program, Mayor Michael Bloomberg will roll out a plan to allow all city residents to recycle food scraps. Residents will be issued containers into which they dump their food waste, and the program, while initially voluntary, is expected to become mandatory. According to the Times, food waste and organic materials account for about a third of the city’s trash. If diverted from the three landfills to which waste is trucked at the cost of $80 a ton, the city could save $100 million a year. Initially, the program will handle 100,000 tons of food scraps that will be sent to a hired composting plant. The program is expected to be so successful, the administration will seek proposals to build its own processing plant to transform the waste into biogas, which would be burned to generate electricity, according to the Times. If you’re thinking New York is a long way from Frederick County, you’re correct. But a similar program is in place closer to home in Howard County, which is set to expand a food-waste recycling pilot program initiated more than a year ago.

Wrong on waste-to-energy details

Frederick News Post
Caroliine Eader
Harvey Alter continues to make it clear he’s not read any of the contracts pertaining to the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority’s proposed trash incinerator, which is to be located in Frederick (“Halloween Garbage”, May 12). And because of his lack of understanding he continues to write fiction. For example, it is not completely true when he writes the incinerator’s costs are to be covered by the tipping fee charged at the landfill. The tipping fees will be whatever the market can bear, and most likely the majority of the costs will be covered by the System Benefit Charge (SBC), which is a mandatory fee found on each and every property tax bill in the county.

Ban or behave?

Frederick News Post
Baltimore City Councilman James B. Kraft has introduced a bill that would ban polystyrene foam products such as Styrofoam for carryout food and drink orders. According to a Tuesday (Baltimore) Sun story, the measure would impose fines up to $1,000 on establishments that used Styrofoam for food or drinks that are taken from the premises. It also bans city agencies from buying, acquiring or using these foam products. Styrofoam litter in the form of cups, takeout containers, etc., is widespread in Baltimore, including the harbor, where it is highly visible because it floats. Supporters of this measure claim these foam products are more harmful to the environment than their biodegradable paper counterparts, and that forbidding their use as takeout containers would be a valuable step in reducing Baltimore litter.

Monocacy River foul

Frederick News Post
The Monocacy Scenic River Citizens Advisory Board is taking new steps in an attempt to stop the dumping of old tires into the Monocacy River. Tire dumping into the Monocacy has become a worrisome issue for the river board in recent years, so along with county officials they’re going to ensure that all county bridges that span the Monocacy are marked as such, along with prominent signs that warn of the fine for illegal dumping. Many of these bridges have heretofore been unmarked and missing signs indicating that dumping is prohibited

Organization seeking to recognize green businesses

Carroll County Times
Carrie Ann Knauer
A local environmental organization is aiming to connect eco-friendly businesses to eco-conscious consumers through a Green Business Network in Carroll County. The program is a collaborative effort by a committee composed of members of Waste Not! Carroll, Sustainable Living Maryland and the Catoctin chapter of the Sierra Club, said Sally Long, one of the committee members. Long said fellow committee member Don West came across a similar network of green businesses in Boone, N.C., and thought it would be a good opportunity for Carroll businesses and consumers.

The $500M boondoggle

(Sometimes doing something is a lot worse than doing nothing. This is one of those times.)
Frederick News Post
Marta Mossburg
The fact that it is even being considered at a time when cities and states across the country are buckling under a combined $7.3 trillion debt load makes the project make even less sense, especially for the alleged fiscal conservatives in office.

Food-scrap composting finds a home in Howard

County launches own facility to process residential waste
Baltimore Sun
Timothy B. Wheeler
Howard Hord considers himself a chef of sorts, but the food he works with is a little past its prime. Using moldy melon rinds, orange peels and other castoff fruit and vegetables from some Howard County kitchens, Hord is "cooking" the first batches of plant fertilizer to be produced by the new composting facility at the county's Alpha Ridge landfill in Marriottsville, set to mark its official opening on Monday, Earth Day.

Contract details bedevil incinerator opponents; county seeks opinions

Frederick News Post
Patti S. Borda
The contract Frederick County has for a $400 million waste-to-energy incinerator does not say what the county believes it does, a variety of opponents keeps insisting. They are wrong, the Board of County Commissioners keeps responding: wrong about the lease agreement with the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority, wrong about the $400 million debt responsibility, wrong about who has to deal with all the incinerator ash. Commissioners say they will verify their position before carrying out the contract with the authority to build the incinerator. The incinerator is supposed to take 1,500 tons of trash and burn it into electricity, which will generate profit for the authority, reduce the county’s electrical cost and cut back on landfill use. The contract assumes electrical rates, trash supply and landfill availability that are not realistic or good for the county, said Bruce Holstein, a retired government accountant.

Once you burn them .

Frederick News Post
Jan Samet O'Leary
The current debate over the waste-to-energy incinerator is missing a crucial point: What we are calling “waste” actually contains vital natural resources. The fact is that our planetary resources are finite, and, in our inexorable rush to consume, we are in serious jeopardy of exhausting substances that are necessary to the health of the planet and to our survival as a species. Take phosphorus, for example. A critical ingredient in chemical fertilizers and in our own bodies, this element, at current usage rates, will be depleted in just 50 to 100 years. Similarly zinc, the fourth-most used metal in the world and essential for human growth, may also be gone within the next century. And there are many others. So what does this have to do with an incinerator in Frederick County?

Living in another financial reality

Frederick News Post
Sally Sorbello
The Frederick County Commissioners do not seem to understand the financial reality of the proposed Frederick/Carroll incinerator, since they claim that the NMWDA is on the hook for the bonds. That is like saying your mortgage banker is responsible for paying off the mortgage for your house. The NMWDA continues to mislead the public and our officials into thinking the incinerator is somehow a financial boon, that it will pay for itself. They mislead us because the incinerator means money in their pockets, to the tune of $500,000 a year at 3 percent markup, plus an ever-escalating membership fee (it is now $125,000 a year and will rise to $275,145 a year by fiscal 2015) for the next 30 years

County to seek waste-to-energy suitors

Carroll County looking at other options
Frederick News Post
Pete McCarthy
Frederick County has the green light to pursue new partners for the proposed waste-to-energy incinerator plant. Members of the Carroll County Commissioners signed a letter Thursday to allow the discussions, but the move does not remove Carroll County from the partnership. Frederick County officials welcomed the news."We have interest from three counties," said Frederick County Commissioners President Blaine Young. "We haven't really been able to aggressively pursue that because of the way the contract is written." Young confirmed that Prince George's, Howard and Washington counties have expressed interest. Carroll County officials have made it known for months that they intend to pursue other trash-disposal alternatives.

Burnin’ Down The Waste

Trash Talk
Frederick Gorilla
Kelly Brook
“No Incinerator!” scream the signs. If you live or work in Frederick County, you’ve seen them in windows, on lawns and in cars for years. You can’t help but notice them. When you see them, maybe you cringe from the vision of soaring incinerator smokestacks spewing a black, smoky, noxious sludge of particulates, carcinogens, and climate-altering acids. Or maybe you roll your eyes imagining the “tree-hugging, peace-loving, Common Market-shopping” conservationist who might have posted it. If you’re like most people, though, you take a moment to acknowledge your concern for the environment, worry for a moment about how this will affect your taxes, wonder what the heck this incinerator debate is all about—and then forget about it and get on with your day.

Consultant: County should perform solid waste audit

Carroll County Times
Carrie Ann Knauer
A Frederick County consultant reaffirmed the need for an audit of Carroll’s waste stream after giving a presentation to the county solid waste work group Tuesday evening.Steve Cassis, of Solid Waste Analysis Group in Frederick, was a guest at the work group’s second meeting Tuesday. Cassis reviewed the basics of a similar presentation he gave to Frederick County in 2009 recommending that Frederick and Carroll turn away from a plan to build a 1,500-ton-per-day waste-to-energy incinerator and instead focus on a regional resource recovery park. The resource recovery park would include a number of elements to divide the counties’ collected waste into separate elements where each type of waste could be reused, recycled or properly disposed of.The recommended elements for the resource recovery park would include a materials recovery facility where recyclables could be sorted for sale, a composting operation, construction and demolition recycling, electronic waste recycling, a reuse center where people could claim used goods, a household hazardous waste collection area, secure document destruction, a maintenance facility and demonstration areas and classrooms. Cassis said he would recommend having an area of at least 300 acres for such a facility so that there is plenty of room for the operations, potential growth and to maintain a green space buffer from neighboring properties.