Piping Up On Trash Hearings

Posted: November 04, 1986

The brass at Philadelphia's Naval Shipyard has managed to confirm the worst fears of neighbors who think a trash-to-steam plant is going to be shoved down their throats. They did that by taking only the most legalistic, low-profile measures to publicize a public hearing on whether to sell the city a piece of Navy land for the project.

For the record, that hearing is set for 7 p.m. Thursday at the Spectrum - a fact that only the most eagle-eyed citizen would have been able to spot in the Federal Register or buried in The Inquirer's classified section.

There are enough real concerns about the plant - its health and safety implications, for starters - without throwing a monkey wrench into the opinion-gathering process. As things stand now, it was left to long-time plant opponent, City Councilman David Cohen, to do what the Navy didn't: Alert South Philadelphia last week that the hearing was only days away.

Mr. Cohen has succeeded for years in delaying Council's own hearings on the plant (now scheduled for Nov. 12), but his complaint about the Navy's silent treatment is no less valid.

Officially, the aim of the Spectrum hearing is to assure "an early and open process" in shaping the scope of an environmental impact report on how a plant would affect traffic, air quality, energy conservation and the welfare of the neighborhood - including the shipyard itself. And that's tough to do if no one shows up.

The Inquirer has backed the concept of a trash-burning plant, if it can be operated safely and reliably. But it has backed, just as strongly, a process that guarantees real community input on questions of design, monitoring and adherence to pollution standards.

The job for the Navy and city alike is not just to go through the motions. It is to defuse the opposition by answering its questions and dealing with its legitimate fears. A sotto voce hearing announcement is one heck of a way to start.

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