Crownsville center cleanup may stymie Arundel

Owens says the cost might be too high

February 04, 2005|By Childs Walker and Phillip McGowan | Childs Walker and Phillip McGowan,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County may back away from a bid to take over Crownsville Hospital Center because a potential cleanup could cost tens of millions of dollars, County Executive Janet S. Owens has advised state officials.

"Unfortunately, the more we learn about Crownsville, the more we become convinced that a scenario may not exist under which Anne Arundel County could reasonably afford to take control of the property," Owens wrote in a Jan. 28 letter to S. Anthony McCann, secretary of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The county executive did not close the door to taking over the shuttered, state-owned mental hospital but said the state probably would have to fund a significant portion of asbestos cleanup and rehabilitation of the property's sewer system.

"Should the state provide sufficient funding to address all of the situations discussed ... Anne Arundel County would certainly be willing to reconsider its position on this matter," she wrote.

State health officials said they had received Owens' letter but had not reviewed it and could not comment. The state is conducting an assessment of possible environmental hazards and cleanup costs at Crownsville. Once the review is complete, state officials will work to eliminate environmental hazards or restrict access to them, said Elizabeth Barnard, director of the state department's Office of Planning and Capital Financing. Barnard said she does not know when the report will be complete.

Owens had talked of using the 648-acre campus for such purposes as a center for county nonprofits or a venue for large celebrations such as high school graduations. Meanwhile, state Del. David G. Boschert, a Crownsville Republican, has introduced a bill to create a task force to study converting part of the property into a state veterans home. The study would be completed by the end of the year.

The county remains interested in a separate parcel west of Interstate 97 that is part of the hospital campus. The wooded area was on a list of properties declared "excess" by the governor's office last year. Owens hopes to preserve that tract of about 550 acres as open space.

In her letter, Owens criticized a state-hired contractor's recent report on the property, saying it did not include projected costs for a full cleanup of the site, which includes 61 buildings.

She raised questions about cleanup costs for an asbestos-lined steam tunnel that runs underground between many of the buildings at Crownsville. She noted that an earlier study said such a cleanup could cost between $3 million and $5 million.

Owens said the tunnel would have to be removed "to ensure potential future options for the utilization of the Crownsville property are not severely limited."

She also questioned why the report did not include cost estimates for rehabilitating the site's wastewater system. She noted that state officials had requested millions for such a rehabilitation in past years, but it was never funded.

The county executive said a hook-up to public sewer lines could cost as much as $20 million and would not fit the county's master plan for the mostly residential Crownsville area, which straddles Generals Highway and is about six miles northwest of Annapolis.

Owens said she would work to keep nonprofits such as Hope House, the Maryland Food Bank and Second Genesis operating on the site. She said she hopes to hold discussions with Anne Arundel Medical Center about opening a mental health facility on the site.

The state is spending about $1 million a year to maintain the property. The 90-year-old hospital was closed last year and patients were relocated after years of debate over the need for three psychiatric hospitals in a state that has seen a significant decline in the demand for residential treatment -- largely because of advances in psycho-pharmaceutical medicine.

Owens said that given the likely difficulties of rehabilitating the property, "few, if any, options appear feasible for significant private ownership and development."

Some developers have said the county could use part of the property to address a shortage of "work force housing" for teachers, firefighters, police and other professionals.

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