Turning brownfields green Sensible compromise: Bill to recycle abandoned industrial sites put on fast track.

February 07, 1997

IT SHOULD HAVE happened last year, but at the last minute environmentalists and business representatives failed to bridge their differences on a bill clearing the way for redevelopment of "brownfields" -- old industrial sites contaminated by past owners. But now, the two sides have found common ground, putting this year's bill on a fast track.

The idea is to take these former plants and factories and make them environmentally and economically viable as job sites. There are 1,200 brownfields in Maryland -- 3,200 acres alone surrounding the Port of Baltimore. The potential for new industries and thousands of jobs on these acres is enormous.

Companies avoid these locations because of high cleanup costs and potential liabilities even after contaminants are removed. Banks are unwilling to lend money for redevelopment of brownfields because of the legal uncertainties. But the administration bill will give lenders the strong liability release they require.

Pennsylvania has had great success in converting these sites to productive uses. Maryland should follow that state's lead. This would include creation of a large cleanup and redevelopment fund (Pennsylvania's is $17 million). Sadly, the administration's budget contains no money for such a fund. That is a major mistake, but one lawmakers can correct by setting aside some bond money this year -- and much more next year -- to jump-start brownfield redevelopment efforts.

Strong incentives from local and state governments will be crucial. Marginal brownfield sites may require large investments that companies aren't willing to make unless they can obtain some tax relief as well as loans and grants. It is not enough simply to pass brownfields legislation; lawmakers and the governor must also become financial partners in restoring the land and encouraging job-creating activity on these sites.

Passage of this compromise bill, which receives a hearing today, would be a winner all around. Abandoned, contaminated sites would be cleansed. Former industrial areas -- which already contain necessary infrastructure -- would take on new life. Brownfields would turn green for everyone.

Pub Date: 2/07/97

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