Fairfield, near Curtis Bay, is a cornerstone of Baltimore City's $100 million empowerment zone. That desolate collection of vacant public housing projects, chemical plants and trucking companies is to be turned into an innovative eco-industrial park that would provide badly needed jobs for Baltimoreans.
In the past month alone, three workshops have been held to ponder Fairfield's prospects in light of the empowerment zone designation that the Clinton administration bestowed on Baltimore late last year. That's enough palaver. It's time now for action.
This was underscored the other day by the announcement that a New Jersey-based waste management company plans to open a $3 million facility in Fairfield to process the recyclables that are gathered through Baltimore City's curbside recycling program.
This is a welcome development because it will add to Fairfield's industrial base. At the same time, the New Jersey company burst onto the scene quite unexpectedly and without the advance knowledge of those planning the Fairfield eco-industrial park. Which suggests that unless they get going, the planners may be overtaken by companies wanting to use the tax and financing benefits offered by the empowerment zone designation.
The planned recycling plant may be a good fit but other companies, as yet unplanned, might not be. Yet the very concept of the eco-industrial park rests on a premise that a number of varied industries can be grouped together so that they can share each others' wastes and benefit from them.
A working model for this exists in Kalundborg, Denmark. Over the past 20 years, several companies have developed an "industrial ecosystem" where little is wasted. Key to this is an oil refinery, which provides sulfur to a neighboring chemical plant, heat to greenhouses and cooling water to an electric power station. That station in turn feeds steam to a pharmaceutical plant, heat to fish farms and fly ash to a road builder.
This Danish model is drawing attention from all over the world. The Japanese want to duplicate it. In the United States, the President's Council for Sustainable Development sees it as an approach that could be copied at its demonstration sites. In addition to Fairfield, those sites are Chattanooga, Tenn., Brownsville, Texas, and Cape Charles, Va.
Fairfield offers exciting industrial redevelopment possibilities that could benefit Baltimore City and its residents. This is one project that the city should not blow.