VIA CECIL WHIG
PORT DEPOSIT — The slumbering Bainbridge property may stir with development sometime soon, as the corporation that oversees it has struck a deal with federal and state officials to clean up contamination that has long since hindered any progress.
An unidentified industrial company has expressed interest in the 1,200-acre property perched on a granite cliff east of Port Deposit, after the Bainbridge Development Corporation (BDC) reached an agreement with the U.S. Navy on paying for a portion of the environmental remediation, according to BDC Chairman Michael Pugh.
“We’re turning a corner. In my time of involvement with Bainbridge, this is the closest we have ever been in bringing development to fruition,” said Pugh, who is closing in on eight years with the state-chartered organization.
County officials identified Bainbridge as one of the top places for a mixed-use development of residential, office, retail and industrial use after the U.S. Navy sold the property in 2000, but soil contamination stalled those plans out. When a Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) assessment uncovered that the pollution was more widespread than previously thought, talks turned to who would pay for the cleanup, which was estimated at $10 million.
Pugh said the relationship between the BDC and the U.S Navy became “contentious” and at one point, the BDC filed a notice of intent to sue the Navy in May 2016. Later that year, the Navy funded the bulk of a $1.5 million environmental study on the site.
After more talks between the two parties and state officials, Pugh said the Navy has indicated “a willingness to participate” to redevelop Bainbridge by honoring their obligation to clean up a portion of the site. In exchange, the BDC agreed to significantly reduce the planned residential space, which would require significantly more thorough remediation, and essentially make Bainbridge an industrial and commercial enterprise.
With that change comes a substantial change in the nature of regulation, he said. In earlier plans, more than half of the 1,200 acres were intended for residential use. The BDC has not ruled out eventually returning to residential use at Bainbridge, but Pugh did not want to be pinned down to certain number.
“There may be none, but I’m not excluding the possibility there could be some [residential space] down the road,” he said. “The immediate focus is getting something going at Bainbridge. This gets something going in a significant way. A future generation can decide what the right thing is for other pieces of it.”
The environmental study, which the BDC considered proprietary information, has not been released since it’s under review by the state and federal officials. But Pugh added that changing the nature of Bainbridge’s use is a game-changer since it cuts some of the red tape the BDC must work through, and brings the Navy back to the table.
The announcement comes after another major behind-the scene change within the BDC leadership. After Donna Tapley stepped down as executive director in August, the council appointed Steve Cassard, most recently the director of special projects at Maryland Economic Development Corporation (MEDCO), to take the helm.
MEDCO was created by the Maryland General Assembly to serve as the state’s economic development arm, and had a hand in the Rocky Gap Lodge and Golf Resort near Cumberland and redeveloping a closed Fairchild aircraft plant in Washington County.
The BDC’s contract with MEDCO includes a monthly cost at or below $10,000 and a yearly cost of $120,000, according to BDC Project Coordinator Toni Sprenkle. As executive director, Cassard will be paid $145 per hour and other financial provisions could be made if MEDCO provides additional resources.
Other changes include a new face on the BDC Board of Directors, as Pugh will step down at the end of his term in October. County Executive Alan McCarthy nominated Martha Barchowsky, who owns Banks Recycling and Tome Carriage House, to take his place as a representative of the county’s interests on the BDC’s Board of Directors. David Rudolph, a former longtime state delegate, was nominated as a Port Deposit representative on the same board.
If the county council approves both nominations next month, Barchowsky and Rudolph will serve until October 2022.
The BDC’s next year will be focused on bringing another redevelopment plan forward, and having it approved at all regulatory levels so permits can be issued so construction work can start. The newfound possibility of an industrial tenant has spurred the BDC to act fast.
“Clearly we’re going to want to expedite this as much as we can since we have an active prospect here,” Pugh said. “The greatest obstacle [right now] is time. As long as the person who’s going to use the property is in front of you and actively pursuing this, you do everything to meet their timeline … we don’t want to be caught up in bureaucratic red tape.”
That unnamed industrial tenant that has turned its eyes to Bainbridge hopes to secure the permits and agreements so it can break ground in spring or summer 2019, according to Pugh.