The Frederick County Commissioners are suspending deliberations on a proposed trash incinerator, and will focus instead on alternative disposal options.
The commissioners accepted bids on the project earlier this year, and appeared to have narrowed those down to a preferred site and contractor to build and run the incinerator.
But they voted 4-1 on Tuesday to suspend that process. Commissioner John L. Thompson Jr. voted against the motion.
Also known as waste-to-energy, the trash incinerator was intended to be a cheaper, long-term answer to the county's shrinking landfill space.
The proposed project would have been built by Wheelabrator and located at
McKinney Industrial Park, across the river from Monocacy National Battlefield.
It would have cost Frederick and Carroll counties up to $527 million, and one commissioner said Tuesday the cost could even be as high as $615 million.
A motion to proceed with that contract and add requirements to make it less visually intrusive was defeated 3-2, with only commissioners Thompson and David Gray in favor.
"There comes a time when you have to bite the bullet and make the big decision," Gray said. "You very seldom have a perfect solution drop in your lap."
Calling the issue divisive and citing concerns about public opposition, Commissioner Charles Jenkins and Commissioners President Jan Gardner said they were not prepared to go forward with a contract to build an incinerator.
Both said they thought the opposition could result in court challenges or an election in which candidates were elected to reverse the decision.
"We need results, not lawsuits," Jenkins said. "Fortunately, I think we have other options that do not include building our own waste-to-energy facility."
Once an incinerator supporter, Jenkins said he has become alarmed by the rising cost of the facility throughout the bid process.
Gardner objected to the proposed location because it is close to the battlefield and the site is small.
She also said now is a bad time to seek credit to pay for the plant, given the economy.
Gray thought the county could overcome the site concerns by reducing the smokestack's height to about 270 feet and requiring that it look like brick, but he was not able to convince Gardner.
Commissioner Kai Hagen, an outspoken opponent of the incinerator, said he was willing to explore using a waste-to-energy plant outside the county, if it meant the commissioners would suspend the bid process for a Frederick plant.
But he said that he believes other options, including increased recycling, composting and waste reduction efforts, are the best solutions.
Thompson equated the search for better sites and technologies with a search for the fictional paradise Shangri-La.
"Unlike Ambassador Conway (from "Lost Horizon"), we will not find our Shangri-La because no such technology or location exists," he said.
He voted to move forward with an incinerator, even though he said it would end his political career.
The commissioners will spend several months evaluating trash disposal options.
They plan to hire consultants, and they need to find a way to pay them; the studies are not included in the county budget.
They might decide to move forward with waste-to-energy, or to end the bid process entirely in favor of a different solution.
"I think this is trying to get to the best possible answer," Jenkins said. "If that takes three more months or four more months, then it will take three or four more months."