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Environmentby Fern Shen6:20 pmOct 28, 20200

Olszewski wants to extend Baltimore County’s contract to burn trash at BRESCO

Critics of the South Baltimore incinerator, working to improve “our horrible air quality,” object to the county sending trash to the city for six more years

Above: Protesters post tombstone-shaped signs today at BRESCO after word spread about the Baltimore County contract extension proposal. (@BaltimoreSouth)

Baltimore County is poised to extend its contract to send trash to Baltimore’s BRESCO incinerator for an additional six years, a proposal before the County Council for a vote next Monday night.

Opponents of the South Baltimore facility, who have been trying to shut down the plant, Baltimore City’s biggest source of industrial air pollution, today denounced the move by County Executive Johnny A. Olszewski Jr.

“This is very surprising and very unfortunate. They are locking the county in to contributing to the $55 million in health damages that BRESCO causes in the city every year,” said Greg Sawtell, a leader of the South Baltimore Community Land Trust.

His group has been part of a coalition pressing Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young to end the city’s contract with the trash-burning plant.

Both the city and county have contracts with BRESCO’s operator, New Hampshire-based Wheelabrator Technologies, Inc., that are set to expire next year.

The Young administration has said it is offering to settle litigation with Wheelabrator by extending Baltimore’s contract for another 10 years.

The Olszewski administration is offering to extend its relationship with Wheelabrator through September 30, 2026.

“On behalf of all City & Balt Co citizens who are working to end trash incineration in order to improve our horrible air quality and to work with the City on using cleaner methods, PLEASE PULL THE BILL from Monday’s agenda,” longtime Westport leader Keisha Allen said on Twitter.

“Baltimore Co Residents – We need your help,” Allen added tagging all seven county Council members

If approved, the county’s existing BRESCO contract would be terminated and a new contract, retroactive to October 1, 2020, would take effect.

Like the city, the county is offering to extend its contract in order to settle a lawsuit, Olszewski’s spokesman, Sean Naron, said today.

Blaming Past Administrations

Last year, Olszewski appointed Stephen W. Lafferty as the county’s first “chief sustainability officer.” The 71-year-old former state legislator said he was in a meeting and was unable to discuss the decision to extend the trash contract.

Lafferty referred The Brew to Naron, who then read a statement on behalf of Olszewski that began: “We’re fully committed to a zero-waste future in Baltimore County.”

“In the past, the county has refused to innovate for our solid waste needs, but our administration is finally changing that,” the statement continued. “Recently, I announced the formation of a Solid Waste Work Group which will produce a long-term and long overdue plan that can protect our environment and reduce the amount of garbage we create.”

In the meantime, “this agreement is the most responsible path forward at this time.”

Naron did not respond to a question about whether the contract extension flies in the face of the county’s Ten Year Solid Waste Management Plan.

Among the plan’s recommendations (on page 5) is to “assess the environmental as well as fiscal impacts of extending Baltimore County’s contract options with Wheelabrator Baltimore beyond the end of 2021.”

Naron was unable to say whether that fiscal and environmental assessment has been completed.

Paying No Matter What

Under the terms of the proposed contract, Baltimore County will deliver at least 215,000 tons of waste each year to BRESCO for six years and pay fees totaling $58.8 million, according to a memo from the county law department.

Like the current contract, however, this is a so-called “put-or-pay” contract, meaning the county is obligated to pay a set amount no matter how much waste is sent to the plant.

“So with this, the county would be contractually obligated to pollute the air for another five years,” Sawtell said. “They would have a financial incentive to continue to do so.”

Baltimore's BRESCO trash incinerator towers over the Middle Branch.

Baltimore’s BRESCO trash incinerator towers over the Middle Branch.

The put-or-pay clause in the current contract is at the heart of the $32 million lawsuit that Wheelabrator filed against Baltimore County last year. The company accused the county of breach of contract for failing to send an annual minimum amount of trash to the facility.

Baltimore County and Baltimore City are BRESCO’s two biggest customers. The city sent just over 422,000 tons of material to the incinerator in 2019, according to data on file with the state.

By contrast, Baltimore County had been moving away from using BRESCO.

Its contribution to the incinerator dropped from 149,187 tons in 2018 to just 2,223 tons between January and April 2019.

• To reach this reporter: fern.shen@baltimorebrew.com

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