Incinerator in Frederick, MD Canceled After Decade-Long Fight

- by Patrice Gallagher, No Incinerator Alliance

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"331","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"320","style":"width: 333px; height: 222px; margin: 3px 10px; float: left;","title":"Photo: No Incinerator Alliance","width":"480"}}]]On November 20, 2014, Frederick County, Maryland's Board of County Commissioners cancelled plans to build a 1500 ton-per-day waste-to-energy incinerator, ending a 10 year citizens' effort to kill the project and put better alternatives for community waste management in place.

The vote was 3 to 2, and all three who voted to cancel had previously supported the project.

As a citizen activist who has fought this project since 2006, it feels great to finally be able to put this terrible idea to rest, and begin to help our county focus on more recycling, repurposing and composting — perhaps in the form of a Resource Recovery Park, as many other communities around the nation are doing successfully.

How did we do it? I suppose the best answer I can give for this is: persistence. The organized opposition got its start with one woman who decided to educate herself and any other interested citizens by inviting to our community a national expert on sustainable waste management. He made a lot of sense to us... much more sense than those advocating for a large incinerator project — the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority.

We began as a loose coalition of activists from many walks of life, most of whom had no knowledge or experience in waste management, but who educated ourselves along the way and were fortunate to eventually attract national experts and environmental organizations (including Energy Justice Network), engineers, lawyers and accountants to our ranks, who shared their expertise with us and helped us make the case against incineration, and in favor of other more economically and environmentally sound ways to think about our waste as a resource to be reused, not burned.

We worked with citizen activists in the other county who signed onto the incinerator contract, Carroll County, MD — WasteNot Carroll — and eventually Frederick's activists formed an incorporated nonprofit, the No Incinerator Alliance.

We set up a website and Facebook page; we printed and distributed several thousand yard signs and bumper stickers; held rallies; showed up to testify at hearings; submitted comments to Maryland Dept of Environment on the permits; wrote dozens of letters to the editors of a variety of local newspapers; distributed almost 30,000 doorhangers to county residences about the incinerator before the 2010 election; and with an eye toward educating the public and our elected officials about all of the worthwhile other ways to deal with "waste," we organized two expos about alternative waste options.

One Frederick activist began her own email campaign against the project, periodically pointing out weaknesses in the project's contract to a growing list of hundreds of email recipients, which included press and elected officials from around Maryland.

We rallied about 500 people to show up to 2 nights of hearings before our previous BOCC voted to approve the project in 2009... 97% of the 100 or so speakers over those two nights were against the project. Nonetheless the board voted to approve, and so did Carroll County's board.

On Frederick's Board of County Commissioners, we had one eloquently vocal commissioner who spoke out repeatedly against the incinerator project, but in the end the vote was 4 to 1 in favor, and many people assumed the incinerator project was, at that point, a "done deal."

However, we did not give up. We continued to educate the public and any elected officials or candidates who would listen, and in the 2010 election, although Frederick County elected candidates who favored the incinerator, thanks to the efforts of our colleagues in Carroll County, several of those elected in Carroll were not in favor.

Meanwhile, permitting hearings were held in Frederick County and again, hundreds of citizens turned up to testify — the vast majority in opposition. We worked with a variety of organizations to develop comments on the permits and organized citizens to submit comments. More than 2,000 comments kept Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) busy for months longer than anyone had anticipated, which resulted in enough delay that it gave time for Carroll County's elected leaders to reconsider their involvement, and they voted to leave the project in April, 2014.

This was truly the beginning of the end for the incinerator project. After Carroll County left the partnership, no other county or entity stepped up to take their place. The negatives of the project had been made quite clear over the years — it had never made sense for us to be involved, and now all of the reasons were public knowledge.

With no partner, the Frederick County Commissioners had to acknowledge that the project could not go forward, and as one of their last official acts, they voted to exit the contract and permits.

And now we have a clean slate and brand new set of opportunities for our community. Those of us who worked so hard over so many years against the incinerator intend to stay involved, and are looking forward now to working in favor of much better methods for our waste/resource management!