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December 1, 2011

Another tiff brews over Constellation ash landfill

A new dust-up is brewing over the coal-ash landfill on Hawkins Point in South Baltimore.

Nearby residents, who waged a vain fight to keep power plant waste out of the landfill, now are girding to oppose a proposal to expand it.

Constellation Energy recently began dumping ash there from its three local coal-burning plants, Brandon Shores, H.A. Wagner and C.P. Crane. Meanwhile, the company has applied to the Maryland Department of the Environment for a permit to operate the disposal site and to expand it, bulldozing an acre of wetlands in the process.

The 65-acre site on Fort Armistead Road had been owned by Millenium Inorganic Chemicals, but Constellation bought it about the time MDE approved depositing coal ash there.  Now the energy company wants to expand the landfill on the tract from 28 acres to 32 acres and raise the height by up to 50 feet (from 220 feet above mean sea level to 270 feet, or 156 feet above ground level.)

Some environmentalists and Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold have already weighed in against the expansion.  Leopold, who's maintained a ban on ash disposal in Arundel since an earlier Constellation dump contaminated Gambrills residents' wells, wrote a letter urging the state to deny the permits for the expansion.  The ash contains toxic residues, some of them carcinogenic.

"We weren't crazy about this - we fought it," Mary M. Rosso, a longtime activist from Glen Burnie, said of the landfill.  Now the expansion proposal "just drives me crazy," she added.

She and other residents have dueled with Constellation before over ash disposal and have long complained about air and water pollution from other facilities in the nearby industrial areas of South Baltimore.  This time, she said, she and others are particularly upset about the prospect of losing an acre of noontidal wetlands.

But Andrew Galli of Clean Water Action said he's still reviewing the company's application. He said he and others had worked to tighten safeguards against ground and surface water pollution at the landfill when the state first permitted ash to be disposed of there.

Constellation sought state approval to dispose of its coal ash at the Hawkins Point landfill, so it could stop trucking its waste to a landfill near Richmond, Va. and to a coal mine reclamation site in western Maryland.  State rules require ash diposal sites to have liners preventing ground water contamination and other controls to capture potentially contaminated runoff. 

Constellation spokesman Kevin Thornton said the company has said all along that it wants to expand the landfill, to increase its capacity and to improve the efficiency of the waste site's operations. The site's being designed to take 7 million tons of ash - enough to hold all the waste from those three plants for 25 years or more. For more details, go here.

Thornton said the three coal plants are generating about 120,000 tons of ash a year - less than normal, he noted, as the poor economy has reduced demand for their power.

"The less the plants run, the less ash generated," Thornton said.

The expansion also would help accommodate an added environmental safeguard, according to Thornton. A heavy-duty plastic liner is to be put in under each of the landfill's six waste "cells" as an added safeguard to keep contaminants from seeping into the ground water.

Jay Apperson, spokesman for the Department of the Environment, said it's his understanding no extra space is needed to install the liner. State regulators are still reviewing the project and will schedule a public hearing if they make a prelimilnary decision to approve it.  If the wetland destruction is approved as part of it, Apperson said, the company would be required to restore two acres for the acre lost.

Rosso said Constellation officials at an informational meeting in early November talked about reforesting some land in Essex as mitigation for the wetlands destruction. She questioned how that would benefit her area, where there aren't many wetlands left now.

"The state should have more sense than to let them have that extra footprint," Rosso said. "We always get dumped on."

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 6:33 AM | | Comments (1)


You should ask them if the "Environmental Awareness Orientation" training that everyone was offered at the company helped determine if bulldozing wet lands for waste disposal was covered.

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About the bloggers
Tim WheelerTim Wheeler reports on the environment and Chesapeake Bay. A native of West Virginia, he has focused mainly on Maryland's environment since moving here in 1983. Along the way, he's crewed aboard a skipjack in the bay, canoed under city streets up the Jones Fall from the Inner Harbor, and gone deep underground in a western Maryland coal mine. He loves seafood, rambles in the country and good stories. He hopes to share some here.

Contributor Christy Zuccarini has been blogging about the local DIY craft scene for a year for She brings her pespective on all things handmade to B'More Green, where she will highlight projects you can do yourself as well as crafters who are integrating sustainable methods and materials.

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