State abandons plan to improve Cambridge port

December 04, 1991|By John H. Gormley Jr.

The state is giving up on a four-year effort to revitalize Cambridge as a seaport, after an investment of more than $1 million in public funds.

"We've explored that venture long enough," Adrian G. Teel, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, said yesterday.

The state owns an 8 1/2 -acre tract in the Eastern Shore town on the Choptank River that it had hoped could attract specialized cargoes such as lumber. To make it possible for seagoing ships to use the Cambridge docks, the shipping channel was widened and deepened at a cost of almost $1 million. The state share was $600,000, while the federal government spent $235,000 for the dredging. Local governments picked up the rest.

In addition, the state repaired the piers and a warehouse.

Mr. Teel estimated the state's total investment at about $800,000, while MPA income from the project over the past four years has been about $300,000, for a net loss of about half a million dollars.

While the improvements to the Cambridge facilities initially led to several ship calls, very little cargo has moved through Cambridge in the past two years. During the first nine months of this year, Cambridge handled no cargo. During 1990, only 2,300 tons were handled there.

The decision to end efforts to promote Cambridge as a seaport came largely in response to local sentiment that the waterfront land could be put to a better use that would bring more economic benefits to the community, Mr. Teel said.

Patricia Soutiere, executive director of the Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce, agreed. "There seemed to be a consensus the port was no longer able to sustain itself," she said.

The Chamber of Commerce sponsored a breakfast last month to discuss the future of the cargo terminal. Almost everyone who attended agreed on "the need for some other kind of development," she said.

Mr. Teel said he and Maryland Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer also met with county officials and local businessmen to ask their advice. They supported the idea of looking for a new way of using the land, Mr. Teel said.

Ms. Soutiere said there is support for a convention center or some other facility that would help the local economy. Mr. Lighthizer, she said, promised to come back and ask local interests for formal development proposals.

"I'm excited this will be a positive step forward for the county," she said.

Mr. Teel said abandoning the efforts to promote Cambridge as a port will not have a significant effect on the MPA's budget deficit. Most of the investment in the Cambridge facilities was made several years ago, and the facility requires very little support from the current budget.

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