Chemical companies make offer

Two manufacturers to help Wagner's Point residents relocate

Neighbors to meet tonight

Proposal by FMC, Condea Vista adds to buyout package

June 09, 1999|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

Wagner's Point's two largest chemical manufacturers, each of which suffered a serious industrial accident last year, have quietly made a joint offer to help relocate residents of the tiny enclave and two smaller communities next to their plants in the Fairfield peninsula.

Herbicide maker FMC Corp. and detergent ingredient producer Condea Vista delivered the proposal Friday to attorney Peter G. Angelos, who is representing Wagner's Point residentswithout a fee.

Angelos is scheduled to brief residents tonight at the Community Environmental Partnership office in Brooklyn.

James Gillece, a lawyer for Condea Vista, said yesterday that the offer was "final."

"What the companies are doing is recognizing that people don't want to be there," said Gillece.

Gillece and Angelos declined to provide financial details.

Company officials said they would distribute brochures outlining the offer in the weeks ahead.

The offer adds another piece to a loosely constructed buyout and relocation package that might be unprecedented in recent American history, chemical industry watchers and relocation experts say.

In addition to industry money, city government is taking about 90 Wagner's Point homes by eminent domain and federal and state governments are helping residents with relocation and home loans.

Two chemical industry officials familiar with the offer said it is intended to ensure that no residents remain in the heavily industrial peninsula.

Any deal, they said, is likely to include provisions for the buyout of the Heights and Fairfield, two distinct islands of a dozen people each who are not included in the city's Wagner's Point buyout.

FMC officials confirmed that they have consulted with Prudential Relocation Services, which has helped with industry buyouts of areas near oil and chemical plants in Texas and Louisiana.

The offer also is expected to include financial assistance to Wagner's Point residents, who will be asked to release the companies from liability.

"Each person will have to decide" for themselves, Angelos said of the possibility of releases.

Angelos' co-counsel, University of Maryland law Professor Rena Steinzor, said: "If the offer requires signing releases for all claims and does not compensate people fairly who have gotten sick, we will have great difficulty recommending it to our clients."

Chemical industry executives said the companies decided to act out of sympathy for residents; concern about the involvement of Angelos, the Orioles owner and one of the state's leading plaintiffs' lawyers; and weariness from a year of news coverage.

David L. Mahler, environmental manager for Condea Vista's Fairfield plant, said he regretted that other area companies had not helped residents. "The more companies we could get to join us, the better."

Residents said yesterday that they were eager to see the offer.

With their neighborhood condemned by the city, many are trying to buy new homes elsewhere, and uncertainty about the amounts they will receive from the state and industry has made it hard to calculate what they can afford.

"We really need to know what we've got," said Rose Hindla, Wagner's Point neighborhood president. "I won't believe there's been an offer until I've actually seen it in writing."

Betty Lefkowitz, who rents a rowhouse on Leo Street, said she would release the companies from liability. "I don't have health problems -- I have money problems," she said. "Where do I sign?"

FMC officials said they decided to join Condea Vista to help residents about two months ago, after city officials moved to take the neighborhood.

"We've always wanted to help our neighbors, but we had to wait to see what would happen with eminent domain," said Jeff Jacoby, an FMC spokesman in Philadelphia.

Pub Date: 6/09/99

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