Vote on Fly-Ash Disposal Put Off

By William Wan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 20, 2007

After hours of testimony, debate and political maneuvering this week, the Anne Arundel County Council delayed a vote on legislation to ban new fly-ash dumpsites in the county.

County officials have been grappling with the issue since last fall when they discovered 23 contaminated wells in the Gambrills area and linked the alarming traces of metals and chemicals in the water to a nearby dump site for fly ash, a byproduct of coal-fired power plants.

Although the proposed ban would not affect the Gambrills site, County Executive John R. Leopold (R) and others have pushed for legislation to block new disposal sites from opening.

Armed with a team of experts and witnesses, Constellation Energy Corp., the company that has been dumping fly ash at the Gambrills site, testified that a ban on future sites would complicate their efforts to reach an agreement with the Maryland Department of Environment to clean up that site.

Constellation officials say they need to dispose of more than 200,000 tons of fly ash a year in the county, largely from its two power plants in northern Anne Arundel County.

Constellation and BBSS, the company which owns the Gambrills site, have been negotiating with the state on a consent decree that would force the two companies to clean up and monitor the groundwater around the Gambrills site. MDE has said it will take the companies to court if a deal isn't reached with the state by Oct. 1.

During the meeting Monday night, a chemical engineer from Constellation also presented a new model that he said would make dumping at the Gambrills site safer. The company's lawyer, Sager Williams, suggested that if the county bans future fly-ash dump sites, it could become responsible for finding ways to dispose of the ash inasmuch as the power plants are in Anne Arundel.

Such arguments were later characterized as red herrings by County Attorney Jonathan A. Hodgson, who urged council members to pass the measure. But some members cautioned against acting too quickly.

"I think in the long term, we need to ban this, but it's too complex to rush through tonight," said Council Chairman Ronald C. Dillon Jr. (R-Pasadena). He also expressed concerns that by acting too soon, the county would lose leverage to influence the cleanup efforts at Gambrills.

Council Vice Chairman C. Edward Middlebrooks (R-Severn) said that the ban would prompt Constellation to ship the fly ash out of the county, passing on the problem to other jurisdictions.

Middlebrooks amended the bill from an outright ban to a one-year moratorium on new sites. But the amended version never reached a vote. According to county rules, no legislation can be voted on after midnight. As the clock ticked closer to 12, Republican council members continued talking about the measure until Dillon checked the official time with the council secretary. She said it was 20 seconds past midnight.

Democratic council members, including Jamie Benoit (D-Odenton), called the move a deliberate filibuster. Republican council member Cathy Vitale (Severna Park) denied that, saying she believed two minutes still remained to call the vote.

The proposed legislation will not come before the council again until Oct. 1.

Meanwhile, some Gambrills area residents for months have been drinking bottled water delivered to them by Constellation and BBSS. Some say they also have avoided cooking with their tap water or showering too often.

"I am appalled we've come to this point," said Keith Greenleaf, whose mother and brother live next to the Gambrills site. "Our whole world has been turned upside down."

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