Turning brown plant sites green Renewal effort: Cleanup of polluted tracts could lure industries back to the city.

March 26, 1996

THEY ARE CALLED "brownfields" -- vacant or underused industrial land spurned because of real or suspected contamination. Companies fear not only the high clean-up costs but the huge potential legal liability these assume, even if these companies weren't the original polluters.

Baltimore City has hundreds of such sites. Throughout Maryland there are numerous abandoned buildings and industrial warehouses no company will touch under present law. Instead of recycling these "brownfields," companies opt for plants in the "greenfields" of suburbia, gobbling up former farmland.

This is an irrational policy. Government should be encouraging firms to locate in existing industrial sites that already have costly infrastructure. We don't need more sprawl.

The House of Delegates has passed a measure that would put Maryland in line with 26 other states -- including competitors Delaware, Pennsylvania and Virginia -- to encourage companies to recycle these suspect sites. Property owners could decide how to remove contamination so the plant could be used for a limited industrial purpose. Then the state would approve the cleanup and give the owner a clean bill of health so he develop the site.

It is estimated 10,000 jobs could be created in the city if vacant or underused land were recycled this way. Some sites could quickly be put back into use, especially in empowerment zones with their added financial incentives.

Environmentalists fear the House bill gives too much leeway to owners. Their version of the bill, with no liability waivers to businesses for cleaning up polluted sites, has passed the Senate. Yet this approach is so restrictive most contaminated sites would probably continue to sit there unproductive and hazardous.

We should give property owners rewards -- not punitive disincentives -- to complete costly clean-ups. If the remediation passes state muster, the reward is a liability waiver needed to get bank loans and avoid future lawsuits.

Turning brownfields green is wise land-use planning. Wherever there are abandoned factories and industrial sites, there is a need for government to encourage companies to develop this land for appropriate uses. We urge the Senate, especially the fTC city's senior legislator, Clarence W. Blount, to accept the more sensible House version. It means both jobs and a cleaner environment for Baltimore.

Pub Date: 3/26/96

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