UPDATE (12:30 p.m. Monday)—Brooklyn Park residents have vowed to renew their fight against Energy Answers International, the company that wants to build an incinerator that would generate electricity in nearby Curtis Bay, following a hearing Friday before a law judge for the state Public Service Commission (PSC).
Todd R. Chason, an attorney representing Energy Answers, filed several technical documents during the 15-minute hearing before PSC law judge Dennis Sobol. Although Sobol asked a few brief questions about the documents, he did not indicate when he would make a decision on when the plant could proceed with construction.
Energy Answers International wants to build the Fairfield Renewable Energy Project on the site of the former FMC chemical plant at 1701 E. Patapsco Ave.
The incinerator would burn tires, wood waste and automobile shredder residue and would release sulfuric acid, soot, mercury and lead, environmental groups opposing the project have said. Residents are concerned because those fumes would not stop at the Baltimore and Anne Arundel County lines between the Curtis Bay and Brooklyn Park communities.
Neither officials from those groups nor anyone from the Brooklyn Park communities opposing the project attended the hearing, prompting at least one union member to question their motivation.
The PSC hearing room in Baltimore was packed to standing room only with members from unions representing steelworkers and electrical workers. Many wore yellow T-shirts reading "Labor Unions Support the Fairfield Renewable Energy Project."
Testimony was not taken from anyone.
Plans for the incinerator have been discussed for four years, according to the PSC's case jacket, which lists meetings, rulings and other decisions.
The PSC approved the permit for the project in 2010, which required construction to begin Feb. 5. But Energy Awareness could not begin construction because it had not sold all of its power and requested an extension of that requirement, officials said. Sobol held a hearing on that on Aug. 30.
Brooklyn Park residents and an official with a nonprofit that serves as a watchdog of state government agencies had different reasons why no one from their groups attended Friday’s hearing.
Mark Hranicka, vice chairman of the Greater Brooklyn Park Council, an umbrella group of several community associations, said he was unaware of the hearing and disappointed no one from the community attended.
But Debbie Frank, president of the Arundel Neighborhoods Association, said even if residents had attended, it wouldn’t have made a difference anyway because testimony would not be accepted. She found out about the hearing late Thursday night.
Residents remain firm in their opposition, both said.
"We were told we couldn’t speak. Why would we stand there if we couldn’t speak," Frank said. "We barely got any info on what kind of procedure it was going to be."
That’s not unusual on projects like this, especially ones whose documents on file with the PSC are full of technical information difficult for those not in those industries to understand, according to Greg Smith, co-director of Community Research, a Hyattsville nonprofit that serves as watchdog on government agencies, environmental stewardship, open government and public health.
"It’s problematic for the general public when agencies set a short clock on public comment," Smith said. "It’s a disrespectful way to treat the public who’s going to be affected by this."
But Chason, Energy Answers’ attorney, disagreed with the idea that the public was uninformed. If anyone had shown up in opposition, he said he would have called witnesses to testify before Sobol.
"We’ve had multiple public hearings and notices printed in The (Baltimore) Sun paper. We’ve entered into evidence all the information that was submitted," he said. "If there was any dispute, we could have called witnesses."
The union officials said they support the project because it will be a leader in clean energy that provides local jobs, both in construction and after the project is finished.
"It’s a state of the art facility that addresses our needs," said Jim Strong, subdistrict director for United Steelworkers’ District 8, which encompasses Maryland. "It provides good jobs and protects our environment."
Roger M. Lash Jr., business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 24, said his union would not support the project if it were not environmentally friendly because such a project would affect their health and their environment, too.
"We live here," Lash said. "This could impact 14 building and training programs. We have local hiring programs in several areas. We see this as a win-win."
And at least one union member, who was not authorized to speak publicly, criticized the opposition for calling it an incinerator when "it’s really a power plant."
Smith disagreed with both that description and the idea that the technology would be green. Community Research’s analysis indicates the incinerator could release half a ton of lead, 2 million tons of greenhouse gases and other toxins and dioxides, he said.
"They call it a waste energy power plant. We call them incinerators because that’s what they are. They burn stuff," he said. "It’s one of the dirtiest ways to generate electricity."
The Maryland Department of the Environment and Department of Natural Resources projected that the incinerator would emit more than two millions tons of greenhouse gases; the permit conditions proposed by the state would allow Energy Answers to release one-half ton of lead annually; and the state's analysis projects that the incinerator would release more than one million tons of carbon dioxide annually.
Depending on when Sobol reaches a decision, construction could start as early as August 2013, Chason said. "We think we’ve made our case."
Editor's note: This article was updated to include information from the Maryland Department of the Environment and Department of Natural Resources.