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Wednesday, December 2, 2015


George Wenschhof
Frederick County executive Jan Gardner has appointed a solid waste committee and over the next 18 months they will come up with recommendations to present to the executive and council on how best to handle the disposal of solid waste.
This is hardly a new issue. This recent attempt at moving toward a solution comes after Jan’s steadfast endorsement of the effort to build an Incinerator went down in flames.
The Waste-To-Energy (Incinerator) solution had been arrived at after several years of study and a presentation given by Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority (NMWDA).
It has now been over seven years since Jan Gardner wrote a column on my Blog entitled“Talking Trash”.
That column published on July 16, 2008 was the first of four columns she would write promoting the building of an Incinerator to handle the disposal of solid waste in Frederick County, Maryland.
She became president of the board of county commissioners after Republican David Gray, relinquished the gavel.
Kai Hagen, a fellow Democrat disagreed with Jan’s insistence on building the costly incinerator and I would also publish columns from him at the same time where he put forward reasons why the county should not participate in building the incinerator.
I had given them both the opportunity to write, in detail, their positions on how the county should handle the disposal of solid waste.
Kai would never garner two other votes on the five member board to win his argument and Jan would go on to secure the votes on the board to move forward to building the incinerator in what was billed as a waste-to-energy solution to county solid waste disposal.
Later, Jan would announce on my online video program All Things Political she would not run for reelection in the 2010 election.
Kai would run for reelection and recruit two other Democrats who were opponents to the building of the incinerator, Ellis Burruss and Janet Wiles. They would run as a team for county commissioner rallying supporters with “No Incinerator” signs appearing throughout the county. Although they were right in opposing the building of an incinerator, they would all lose.
In spite of his best efforts, Kai had been unable to put forward an alternative that resonated or connected with enough voters.
In her first column I published, Jan wrote “Frederick County has limited remaining landfill space. If all our community’s waste was sent to the landfill for disposal, the capacity of the landfill would be fully exhausted within three years. In an effort to preserve our landfill space, the commissioners are currently transferring and shipping the majority of our solid waste to a mega-landfill in Virginia. This option has become rapidly more expensive as the cost of fuel has increased. The cost per ton to ship our waste to Virginia has increased from $58/ton to $74/ton over a six-month period solely due to fuel surcharge increases. While transferring our trash to Virginia preserves local landfill space, the cost and environmental impacts associated with this option clearly makes it our worst choice and a poor long-term solution. Transferring our waste to an out-of-state mega landfill has always been considered an interim solution rather than a long-term solution. Shifting our waste burden to another community also raises ethical questions.”
Yet, this is exactly what Frederick County has been doing over the past seven plus years.
So, once again a study is underway.  This time Jan has appointed many of those who had opposed the incinerator and named John Daniels to chair the committee. I interviewed John recently.  I found him to fully aware of what he had gotten himself into and fully capable of leading this committee’s efforts to find a reasonable solution to the county’s disposal of solid waste.
Caroline Eader, another activist who opposed the building of an incinerator and who became a strong advocate for “Zero Waste” practices is concerned with continued involvement by NMWDA in the process.
I spoke with Caroline over the phone and asked her to weigh in with her thoughts of this effort being undertaken.  She responded with the following in an email to me.
“We all should thank the citizens on the Steering Committee who are volunteering their time, and acting as the conduit for public thoughts and opinions.
Yet, it is disappointing this committee was only provided a list of 3 engineering firms from which to choose.  Geosyntec’s original proposal focused on “conversion technologies” rather than all the alternatives included on the “What’s Next” webpage.  Let’s hope the Steering Committee can work around Geosyntec’s lack of experience and knowledge on the alternatives available, including the application of Zero Waste principals, concepts and actions.
But the question is why is the County using ~$154,000 of the “credit” it has with the NMWDA for citizens to teach Geosyntech the basics about the alternatives available?  And the bigger question is why did the County accept a $250,000 credit (upon cancellation of the incinerator contract) to use for future services from the NMWDA instead of receiving the money to pay for a study conducted by someone of its choosing?  (Isn’t that like getting a gift card from a store you don’t want to shop?)
Until the NMWDA is revamped (which S.B. 509 would done as presented last session) Frederick County should cease its membership with this quasi-governmental agency that misled and misrepresented the financial and contractual terms of its proposed incinerator for Frederick and Carroll Counties.
Additionally, it’s a waste for Frederick County not to proceed with what it can do now to increase its diversion rate.  Just as the County can raise or lower the tipping fees at the landfill, it has the ability to require anyone using its landfill to provide services in a tiered-pricing system. This has been proven to increase diversion rates and in doing so, the County can give this economic opportunity back to the local haulers rather than use the NMWDA to contract with a large out-of-state entity.  There’s no need to wait 18 months.”
Daniels was aware of Caroline’s concerns and was confident the committee had independence to determine consultants used.
He explained to me during the first phase the committee and consultant would be conducting outreach from the community through a series of 5 public meetings held throughout the county which he hoped would be completed in March of 2016.
The second phase would include analysis of options and their costs.  Hopefully, options and their financial costs would be eventually reduced to 3-4 options that would be sent to the county executive and council.  He is hopeful the entire process would be completed by March of 2017.
John said the committee would be focused on options that are financially viable, environmentally sound and socially acceptable.
He added they were looking for a longer term (50 year) solution and not short term solutions.
At the end of my interview with John, he said “there is no single system or magic bullet… that it will likely be a combination of approaches”.
It is good to see Gardner has appointed many talented people with interest in this field to this committee and to have someone of Daniel’s capabilities chairing it.
However, Caroline Eader is correct; there is no need to take 18 months to begin taking action and John Daniels is correct, there is no magic bullet.
Reaching out to the community for input is admirable.  But to spend money on a consultant to do this when only a handful of community activists will attend is a waste of time and money.
The appointed committee members are extremely knowledgeable and if money is going to be spent to solicit solutions, it would make more sense to spend it on professionals in this field.
Moving to a three tier bin system for collection is easy and I saw this effectively utilized on the west coast where residents were billed by the size of the bin.
There also remains a need to examine expansion of the current landfill or explore another suitable location.  When I spent time on the west coast several years ago, even the communities who had embraced and were successfully implementing zero waste methods, had landfills to handle a small residual of the waste.
Elected officials have always feared making a decision on where to locate a jail and where to locate a landfill because no one wants it in their back yard.  It was this fear of examining landfill possibilities that in part, fueled the effort to build an incinerator.  However, where to build the incinerator also became a contentious issue.
Governing and making decisions is not easy, but it is past time for Frederick county elected officials to make decisions on how to manage the disposal of solid waste.
Hopefully, the committee will speed up the 18 month process they are currently undertaking.
It is not as though the options are not known; it is the act of making a decision that is lacking.
John Daniels is right, there is no magic bullet and it will take a combination of options.
Let’s get it done.
Stay tuned.