Brownfields reform bill wins approval in House

Measure would speed contamination cleanup

General Assembly

April 08, 2004|By Kimberly A.C. Wilson | Kimberly A.C. Wilson,SUN STAFF

With a 137-0 House vote, the General Assembly gave final approval yesterday to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s brownfields redevelopment reform bill.

Only the governor's signature is needed to enact changes to Maryland's voluntary cleanup program for polluted industrial sites.

"We're very pleased with that today," Ehrlich said.

The administration bill that sailed through the House yesterday with only minor changes streamlines the application and waiting process for developers who join the state program.

The 7-year-old brownfields program, designed to clean up properties contaminated by industrial waste or pollution to make them safe for new users, had lagged. Only 90 polluted properties - averaging about 30 each year in recent years - have been redeveloped to date.

"We hope to be able to double that with this new bill," said Jonas Jacobson, director of waste management for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

The idea behind brownfields redevelopment is simple: identify contaminated industrial sites, clean them up and reuse them.

Some prominent brownfields projects include the former Montgomery Ward site in Southwest Baltimore, and Canton's American Can Co.

The bill would streamline the application process; increase the types of eligible properties, including sites with oil contamination that had been barred in the past; require a flat $6,000 fee; shorten waits for cleanup plan review from 120 days to 75 days and from 60 days to 45 days for application processing.

New public participation requirements will make it easier for residents to comment on redevelopment proposals. And for recalcitrant property owners who have refused to sign up for the voluntary cleanup program, the bill would enable the state to impose hefty penalties.

Reform advocates lauded the General Assembly's action.

"There are other waterfront locations and inner city locations and rural locations that we ought to be reusing as well," said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1000 Friends of Maryland, a coalition of business, environmental and development companies focused on sensible growth.

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