The Montgomery County Council tried yesterday to deflect controversy over its proposal to build a $250 million garbage incinerator at a busy intersection in Gaithersburg by ordering its staff to modify a solid waste plan containing the proposal.

The council told its environmental services department to tone down a section of the 10-year plan to indicate that the incinerator was no more than a proposal--even though the county's public brochure "Energy Recovery And You" tells citizens that the county "is going ahead with plans to build an energy-recovery facility the garbage incinerator ."

"We have not made a final decision," council member Scott Fosler said yesterday. "We have made a number of decisions leading in that direction. But we are exploring other possibilities."

Council members directed the staff to leave open the long-debated option of hauling the garbage by rail to West Virginia as an alternative to building the incinerator. The council must approve the plan and send it to state officials by mid-August.

A citizens group, Concerned Citizens and Scientists for a Healthful Environment, has claimed the incinerator will pollute the air with potentially harmful hydrogen chloride and leave behind ground ash that could contaminate the earth if buried. The group also says the facility will congest an already traffic-clogged intersection, take up valuable land that could be used for commercial development and increase trash collection fees in the county.

The group has been joined by politicians anxious to seize a hot issue prior to elections. Del. Luiz Simmons, a Republican candidate for county executive, joined in a recent demonstration opposing the incinerator. Del. Robin Ficker said, "It's going to make Gaithersburg and Montgomery Village look like Newark and Toledo."

The incinerator, according to county officials backing it, will burn off up to 90 percent of the county's garbage, increasing the life of the newly opened Laytonsville garbage landfill and generating electricity, which could then be sold to Pepco.

"Nobody has decided yes, we're going to build it, full steam ahead," said Alexander J. Greene, special assistant to County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist. "Everybody assumes the conclusion is foregone. It's not."