Smelling money Wagner's Point: Mayor's buyout offer to residents of polluted Curtis Bay enclave is a fair one.

July 17, 1998

IT'S NOT the industrial stench people in Wagner's Point are smelling these days but money.

That's why some residents are demanding a veritable ransom to leave their six-block enclave in Curtis Bay, which they say is too dangerously polluted for human habitation.

Settlement of Wagner's Point began in 1889, when Martin

Wagner moved his can factory from Canton and created a company town on a piece of Curtis Bay farmland. The cannery burned down in 1912, but other industries came: chemical and asphalt plants and a paper company. During World War II, the nearby Fairfield shipyard worked overtime to produce a Liberty Ship every 24 hours.

For decades, pollution existed at high levels that would not be tolerated today. People got sick and died, of course, but that seemed to be expected.

Serious concern about environmental hazards began to be expressed after a rash of cancer cases in recent years. Some of those cases may have been caused by pollution, but others may be linked to lifestyle and genetic factors.

When the 270 residents of Wagner's Point first suggested that the city buy them out, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke branded the suggested compensation -- at least $115,000 for every homeowner and $30,000 for each renter -- unrealistic. That it was.

The mayor has made a counterproposal that has divided residents. He is offering to buy the neighborhood's 98 rowhouses for their appraised value plus help with relocation costs so that the city can expand a nearby sewage treatment plant. Failing that, the city will acquire them through eminent domain.

Wagner's Point is an unusual neighborhood where many residents are related by blood or marriage, and house sales often have been among families. Realistic comparables may be hard to get, particularly because of the environmental considerations.

Mr. Schmoke has made a fair buyout offer. But with Wagner's Point residents resisting, the city is moving toward condemnation.

! Pub Date: 7/17/98

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