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Waive off enviro-risk prospects

The medical waste incinerator looks to be, well, cooked.

Last week the Pennsylvania company proposing to place what it says would be a $27 million operation east of Macclenny called for a breather before proceeding with its request for both Baker County and the city’s approval.

A delay, in this case, is tantamount to throwing a bucket of ice water on a burning book of matches.

Two county commissioners declared this week they, like dozens and probably hundreds of constituents, don’t want to have anything to do with the burning of medical waste in or near Baker County. Assuming they don’t change their mind, that means only a single vote separates the plan and its demise.

The others, we can assume, are sniffing the air (excuse the pun) and appeared noncommittal for now. Maybe they want to give (or appear so) Integrated Waste Management Systems more time to gel up its effort to quell fears that the incinerator will be an environmental freak show.

The company insists that, with approval from the multi-layered environmental regulation agencies, what it will send into the air is harmless.

Regardless of where one comes down on the air quality portion of the  controversy, it has had the effect of setting a precedent.

Baker County wants jobs like everywhere else, but this community is more environmentally conscious than many assume (though one could excuse them from thinking so based on the amount of trash on many roadsides).

In the future, should anyone — from inside or outside the county — entertain the idea of bringing something here with questionable environmental impact, the battle cry will be “Remember the Incinerator!”

Here’s a proposition: should the commission reject Integrated Waste’s project, it might be wise to then pass a “sense of the commission” resolution saying, in effect, that the board doesn’t want either the Chamber of Commerce or Development Commission wasting its time on industrial prospects likely to ignite a debate like we’ve witnessed the past few weeks.

That doesn’t mean the development agencies can’t tactfully and politely listen to such proposals, but it has the advantage of sending advanced signals that we’ll only go so far.

If a future county commission deems that policy too restrictive, it could rescind it.

We want Walmart Distribution Centers, Insteels (formerly Wiremil), Sanderson Pipes and Hanson Roof Tiles (a great operation slammed dunked by the recession).

Of course, so does everyone else. But Baker County with its proximity to major interstates and the port, railheads, available workforce, ready-to-go industrial sites, rural atmosphere adjacent to big city amenities, etc. — well, we got something to sell.

When the economy gets fired up again — and it will — we’ve got the assets to attract industries without big smokestacks and potentially harmful emissions.

It’s possible the medical waste incinerator could rise from the near ashes (please excuse that pun also) and actually end up at Enterprise East.

But it’s not likely. The “medical waste” concept just didn’t sit right — gooey stuff nobody wants to look at — not to mention that aborted fetuses could be in the mix. That’s downright horrific, particularly when coupled with the image of a tall smokestack; well, you know where that thought’s going.

Couple that with the fact that the project was revealed about the time Baker County and environs were blanketed with blue-grey smoke from the County Line Fire and you have an image, however accidental, that just didn’t play into the hands of Integrated Waste’s blueprint.

Let’s move on.

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