Towns say water plan agreement is near

Joint-use system necessary for Bainbridge development

April 11, 2004|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Town officials in Perryville and Port Deposit are close to reaching an agreement on a new regional water system that would remove the last major hurdle to one of the biggest development projects in the state: the redevelopment of the former Bainbridge Naval Training Center.

Officials with the state, county, town and Bainbridge Development Corp. say the towns are close to resolving their difficult off-and-on negotiations of the past four years and agreeing on a joint-use water system.

"We are working on [a memorandum of understanding], and we could reach an agreement in mid-April or a week or so later," said Perryville Mayor Steven Pearson.

"In June or July of 2006, we could be up and running with a new water plant," Pearson said, which would add capacity to Perryville's system while supplying water to Port Deposit. The new system also would pump water to the 1,600-acre former Navy boot camp on a hill above Port Deposit and overlooking the Susquehanna River.

Port Deposit Mayor Robert Flayhart also said an agreement could be reached before the end of the month.

Flayhart said he wants to make certain that the agreement covers the water needs for future development and does not boost the water bills of town residents.

He called the pending contract between the towns "a beautiful gift-wrapped present."

"Now we just have to make sure the content is as good as the wrapping," said Flayhart, adding that his town would develop its own sewage system.

The failure to reach agreement on water and sewerage was blamed for killing an earlier, ambitious development plan for Bainbridge.

In the summer of 2000, Reston, Va.-based Lowe Enterprises Community Development Inc. announced plans for a $500 million resort, conference center, business park and employment center at Bainbridge that would employ as many as 2,400 workers.

The Lowe plan - one of the biggest development projects in the history of Cecil County - was designed to revive an area that is trying to recapture its prosperous past.

It called for a resort and conference center with 200 hotel rooms, at least one 18-hole golf course and 1,200 upscale housing units marketed to retirees or people from the Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia regions seeking second homes.

There was talk of a San Francisco-style cable car that would shuttle passengers between Bainbridge and Port Deposit, which would serve as a town center with new restaurants and shops.

Lowe abandoned its plans for Bainbridge two years later. "They got tired of waiting for water and sewage," said Harland R. Graef, chairman of the Bainbridge Development Corp., or BDC, which was established by the General Assembly in 1999 to oversee the development of the former Navy base, which closed in 1976.

In December, the BDC approved a new team of Maryland developers to revitalize the property. It includes Richard Alter, president of Manekin LLC in Columbia; Clark Turner, president of Clark Turner Cos. of Belcamp; and John Paterakis, a commercial developer in Baltimore.

County officials have estimated that a $20 million upgrade of Perryville's water system to serve Perryville, Port Deposit and Bainbridge would cost considerably less than building individual systems for each community.

Robert Gell, former president of Cecil Community College and a BDC director, said the water negotiations have been slowed over the years by each town's reluctance to give up control of its local water system.

He said a new agreement would create a water and sewage commission, an autonomous organization that would operate the system while protecting the interests of both towns.

Vernon J. Thompson, executive director of the BDC, said, "Everyone is pleasantly surprised" that negotiations appear close to an end.

Thompson said workers could be making needed repairs to Port Deposit's water system and putting in new water lines by late summer or early fall.

To help speed the negotiations, the new development group, commonly called the Manekin team, has agreed to help finance a new water system.

Turner has assured Port Deposit residents that they will see no big increase in their water bills as a result of building a new $20 million water and sewage system.

He guaranteed that under a new system, water and sewage bills would be 30 percent lower than the current rate and would not increase more than 1 percent a year.

The Manekin team is moving ahead with plans for a $750 million mixed-use residential and industrial complex at Bainbridge. The developers plan to build 1,250 homes on 300 acres.

An employment center on 400 acres would seek to attract companies paying high salaries rather than warehouses, which would offer the county limited economic return.

Plans call for acres of open space for ball fields, hiking and biking trails, a museum, a veterans cemetery and a lake.

"It will be a place where people can live, play and work," Turner said.

The Manekin plan no longer includes the restoration of the former Tome School buildings.

The BDC is negotiating with another company, Paul Risk Associates Inc. of Quarryville, Pa., to restore the rundown granite buildings that once housed the turn-of-the-century private school.

Risk wants to transform the school into a 1,000-unit retirement community, similar to its Willow Valley facility near Lancaster, Pa.

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