Brownfields hit pay dirt Redevelopment plan: Recycling former industrial sites could boost economy.

February 20, 1997

THREE THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED acres along the Port of Baltimore are suddenly more valuable commercial properties. These are "brownfields," vacant buildings or unused land with environmental problems that no one dared occupy. A new law will enable most of this land -- and much more throughout Maryland -- to return to productive economic life.

Senate and House emergency bills have swept through their respective houses to give businesses the liability protection they need to restore these acres. The identical measures, which must pass through the other house before the governor can sign one of them, clear the way for companies to receive state development loans and grants and local property tax credits for cleansing these properties.

This promises to be the most significant economic development act of the General Assembly session. Similar brownfields legislation paid off handsomely for Pennsylvania. With the enticing prospect of valuable acres of vacant land alongside the port in Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County, the reward for Maryland from the brownfields redevelopment law could be even more impressive.

But that will take a focused effort by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and FTC county executives C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger and John G. Gary. Companies will need financial aid from the localities to remove toxics from these properties. The city especially must offer alluring tax incentives and loans if it expects to draw businesses -- and jobs -- to Baltimore.

The brownfields legislation gives them that opportunity. It took two years to achieve. Last year's measure failed when environmentalists refused to yield on the key question of whether polluters should be allowed to redevelop their fouled property. This time, they won that argument, although a critical year has been lost in bringing jobs to Maryland.

Many of these brownfields will turn green. No longer will they sit as toxic time bombs. Instead, purified land will be returned to productive economic activity. Once the governor signs this bill, the cleanup can commence.

Pub Date: 2/20/97

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