Opinion *copyright and published by Eyesore Productions*
Baltimore may be the first city in the country to knowingly puncture a capped chromium dump in order to build a 23 story tower, making city folks either guinea pigs or participants in a pioneering remidation project, depending on your perspective.
If it works then the nation’s developers will suddenly have a way to build heavy on what was seen as taboo territory, highly toxic brown fields such as the 25 acre Allied Signal Chromium site on the Harbor. But if it fails the city, the Maryland Department of Environment and the EPA would have willingly broken open the cap designed to protect the public from hexavalent chromium or Chromium 6, an officially recognized carcinogen. And that public has gotten increasingly crowded around this site as the city’s waterfront has been built up since the cap was completed in the early 1990s with corporate headquarters, condominiums and a high end shopping district, Inner Harbor East pressing on all sides.
Dubbed Harbor Point, the proposed development comes in at $1 billions for the Exelon Headquarters and has generated much rumbling from City Councilman Carl Stokes after a last minute proposal asks for 108 million in bond advance to draw investors.
Harbor Point sits on a political fault line that could draw diverse interest from civil rights advocates angered that developers are utilizing incentives but giving nothing and environmentalists to whatever is left of the Occupy Movement, but Baltimore’s street politics is a pretty tepid place to be sure.
The project, under the aspices of developer Michael S. Beatty’s Harbor Point Development Group LLC, with 9 acres of green space, is a far cry from the original perceptions of relatively low impact develoment and more than 11 acres of development.
Indeed the bewildering pace of the win-win push behind the proposal ,at least as seen from citizens of the streets , can be summed up by the gushing of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings -Blake official statement in the Baltimore Sun on June 3. “Like the Inner Harbor revitalization effort of 30 years ago, the Harbor Point project represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to grow Baltimore by attracting new jobs, new residents, new tax revenue, and new public amenities,”
But Baltimore may be breaking ground in more ways than one.
Baltimore’s distinction as a trailblazer or guinea pig, depending on your perspective, has yet to be varrified,but that hasn’t gone without trying. For the last several months I have gone to the EPA as a citizen, a resident who lives two blocks asking if there is an example of any development of this size that has been completed on an urban toxic site. They have offered none. In the meantime I’ve searched libraries and the internet for development protocols such as exist for say lead paint removal, detailing how can builders send 27 foot pilings safely into a clay cap and found nothing.
I had a chance to ask representatives of the developers of the proposed new home for the new Exelon Headquarters, The Beatty Group. He said that the pilings will have a point that would reduce any dust. Just how the pillions will be inserted into a toxic site without disturbing the containment system that prevents groundwater contamination that remains to be seen.
EPA officials assured that strict monitors will be in place and although the developers have gotten preliminary approval, the procedure of how the site will be development has yet to get final approval.
But that doesn’t fill me with confidence especially since Baltimore seems to be set up as a test case.
In fact in Jersey City, which was facing a similar chromium site, owned by Honeywell, the same company charged with overseeing the Allied site, the contents of the toxic dump was removed. That is in Jersey, there is no issue of buiding on or penetrating a cap because the chromium was shipped off to an already established toxic waste site. Of course the removal only occurred after a law suite forced New Jersey’s government to remove the site.
Known as the former Rosevelt Drive-in, the site encompassed 30 acres of chromium and slag. The slag would pop up or heave from the chromium underneath, according to reports in the New York TImes. Concerns were both about air-born contamination as well as groundwater.
Rev.Willard Ashley,pastor of the Abundant Joy Community Church in Jersey City part of the group that successfully sued Honeywell, told the New York Times in 2006,
“I very much believe in economic development, but I want it done in a way that’s safe,” Mr. Ashley says that allowing developers to cap a site, build housing on it which serves as a cap, is asimilar to description put forth by the Baltimore group and Maryland Department of The Environment officials. He said dubbing the development as a working cap is what environmentalists call “pave and wave” and just postpones the problems. He wanted all the hazardous waste removed.
In 2003, a federal court found that the way chromium waste heaved under the slag made capping impossible and ordered the contaminants, a half million tons worth, removed. That didn’t stop Honeywell from appealing the decision, coming up with a containment solution to prevent the slag from heaving. According to the New York Times article, they said ground water was making the chromium bond together pushing up against the surface. In the end the courts were not buying it and ordered Honeywell to remove all the chromium (see link to law suit).
And yet in Baltimore right in the middle of the City’s gold coast, with Harbor East on one side, Fells Point on the other and Inner Harbor to the West and Tide Point and Federal Hill to the South, that’s exactly what we get. We get the very toxic site that the courts in New Jersey found unacceptable.
The question is why did Baltimore which was hammering out a remedial plan with Honeywell in 1989, allow a toxic waste dump to be built on such prime real estate, a peninsula in the Harbor.
According to a source who worked in New Jersey government and has knowledge of the Baltimore sites, the government understood that the Maryland Port Authority, which oversaw other chromium sites, could be made liable. The person indicated that the Maryland enforcement was soft but also noted in Jersey, “it took a suite by a citizen group.”
Thus far in Baltimore, the environmental concern is at best on the fringe of public discussion. While many talk about the promise, the jobs, the risk of doing what amounts to be exploratory surgery in the cap of a chromium six is getting scant public airing and no talk of the risks.