Money sought from chemical companies Wagner's Point residents seek funds for relocation

October 08, 1998|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

Residents of Wagner's Point wrote this week to 10 petrochemical companies whose plants ring the tiny South Baltimore neighborhood, asking their chief executives to make "modest" financial contributions to a buyout and relocation of the neighborhood.

"Your company has long vowed a commitment to the environment, health and safety of the communities where it operates," reads each letter. "Help us to relocate our tiny and endangered community of some 300 people, including 70 children, who now live literally in the backyard of your company's manufacturing facility."

Wagner's Point has sought a buyout because of foul air, industrial accidents and a unusually high cancer rate that residents blame on nearby plants. City government has said it would purchase the land, but only after a condemnation process that would give residents an appraised value for their homes. Residents believe those values have been unfairly depressed by unchecked industrial development.

This week's letter, which was sent to giant companies such as Shell Oil, Chevron, Condea Vista and FMC Corp., represents an attempt to secure more money than the city is offering. Residents say they want "comparable value" -- enough money to buy homes of similar size and condition in a neighborhood without heavy industry.

Each letter notes the recipient's corporate profits -- often in the billions -- and points out the relatively lower cost of a Wagner's Point buyout, estimated at $8 million.

Many of the chief executives who received letters were traveling in Europe, where a major conference on chemicals takes place in Switzerland this month.

But in Washington, Jerry Prout, director of regulatory affairs for FMC, allowed the possibility of the industry's involvement in a buyout. "If relocation is a concern with the community, the companies, I think, would want to play a constructive role," Prout said.

Becky Besson, the co-owner of the only Baltimore-based company to get a letter, Delta Chemical Co., said she was taken aback by the letter.

"Right now, it's the mayor's issue, not the industry's," Besson said. "The negotiations are between the city and the community."

Pub Date: 10/08/98

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