5 bid below MPA cost for terminal Developers propose 50-acre car lot for less than $18.6 million

Maritime

October 20, 1998|By Robert Little | Robert Little,SUN STAFF

Five developers seeking to construct an automobile cargo terminal at the port of Baltimore say they can build it for less than the state's $18.6 million estimated price tag.

While officials with the Maryland Port Administration are pleased, the bids did little to appease critics of the project, who say it is an environmental hazard for which costs could double once construction begins.

The low bids mean the state can develop the 50-acre cargo terminal, to be located near the Harbor Tunnel toll plaza, for as much as $2.2 million less than expected.

But a consultant hired by the state-owned terminal's private-sector competitors said the state has underestimated environmental cleanup costs by about $15 million -- costs it won't be able to avoid if it signs a contract and commits to developing the site.

"The risk to the workers, to the community and to the environment has been only minimally assessed," said Paul Thompson, president of PMT & Associates Inc. in Timonium. "There will be, at least, major cost overruns, and the potential for significant environmental impact."

The low bidder for the project -- IA Construction Co. of White Marsh -- offered to develop the facility for $16.4 million. The highest bid was $19.2 million, submitted by the Driggs Corporation of Capitol Heights. A developer will be selected among the eight bidders by the state Board of Public Works, which will meet next month.

The facility, to be called the Masonville terminal, will be leased to Florida-based ATC Logistics Inc. for 20 years, with estimated rent of $146,000 a month. ATC predicts that the facility will be used to move more than 125,000 automobiles on or off ships.

The site for the project was once a dumping ground for material dredged from the Baltimore shipping channels, and is contaminated with petroleum and heavy metals. While Thompson estimates that 45,800 tons of contaminated soil will have to be removed when the site is developed, the Maryland Port Administration estimates that 2,600 tons must be treated or removed. The potential developers used the state's estimates to write their bids.

"We've spent about a year identifying the site, designing the project and quantifying the work to be done, and we feel we've done a good job," said Michael Hild, chief engineer for the Maryland Port Administration. "We don't expect any major problems."

Opponents of the new cargo terminal have another motivation: their pocketbooks. The facility will compete for business with Hobelmann Port Services and Premier Automotive Services, two private cargo handlers that hired Thompson.

The Maryland Board of Public Works approved the terminal's lease to ATC last month despite claims from Hobelmann and Premier that it amounts to state-subsidized competition.

The approval included some concession to the possible environmental problems: If the project's costs exceed 120 percent of expectations, the lease will be reviewed by the board.

State law requires that the construction contract will be reviewed by the board if its costs exceed the contract by $50,000. If a contract is signed next month and no environmental problems stall the development, plans call for the facility to be operational within 18 months.

Pub Date: 10/20/98

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