Bainbridge Pollution Too Severe for Housing Development; Cecil County Commissioners Face Another Appointee Conundrum
Pollution at the abandoned Navy training center at Bainbridge, near Port Deposit, is so severe that it would be ‚Äúcost prohibitive‚ÄĚ to build housing on the site, Cecil County Commissioners were told Tuesday.
At the same time, another Cecil County Commissioners‚Äô appointments controversy looms over the Bainbridge Development Corporation (BDC) board, with two key members‚Äô terms expiring Tuesday: Nelson Bolender, the current BDC board chair and the former president of the County Commissioners; and Carl Roberts, the former superintendent of Cecil County schools and an unsuccessful candidate for county commissioner last year against Diana Broomell (R-4). Bolender and Roberts are Democrats. All five members of the current County Commissioners board are Republicans.
Bolender and Roberts have requested re-appointment to the Bainbridge board and the BDC also is seeking appointment of a new member, Chick Hamm, a well-known and respected banker and community organization volunteer.
Commissioner Broomell told Cecil Times after the commissioners‚Äô worksession on Tuesday that she had her own list of possible appointees to the BDC board that she wanted to consider. She declined to identify her potential candidates and declined to answer when asked if Roberts‚Äô status as her 2010 election opponent would rule him out from her list.
Bolender and BDC‚Äôs executive director, Donna Tapley, briefed the County Commissioners Tuesday on the status of the long-stalled Bainbridge re-development project, which has been planned for a ‚Äėmixed use‚Äô development of residential and business uses.
At the beginning of the year, the project seemed hopelessly mired in environmental problems but Commissioners were told of a sharp turnaround in the site‚Äôs prospects in just the past five months. The intervention of US Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) has turned around the Navy‚Äôs initial refusal to accept responsibility for pollution of the site to the point where the Navy is now acknowledging its financial responsibility for cleanup and is actively participating in remediation plan discussions.
And Cardin‚Äôs interest in moving the project forward was helped by what Tapley called the ‚Äúpolitical juice‚ÄĚ of the private development team that is under contract to carry out the redevelopment of the site. A consortium of private developers includes the Mannekin development group of Baltimore; Clark Turner, of Harford County; and NAI of Prince George‚Äôs County.
But the bad news delivered Tuesday was that a recent environmental assessment concluded that pollution of the site made it ‚Äúcost prohibitive‚ÄĚ to proceed with planned residential development, since each individual homesite would have to undergo costly cleanup efforts.
Overall, pollution cleanup of the site would cost up to $7 million and take up to three years to accomplish, Tapley said. She said the Navy has just recently agreed to pay the costs of cleanups, after previously denying responsibility. But the cleanup of an inactive base is low on the priority list of the Navy‚Äôs budget, she added.
Bolender said that the involvement of the private ‚Äúpartners‚ÄĚ had moved the cleanup plans so far in just a few months and that Carl Roberts had been working with the private developers to come up with a new ‚Äúmaster development agreement‚ÄĚ that should be in place by January.
Tapley said the BDC wants to hold the Navy‚Äôs ‚Äúfeet to the fire‚ÄĚ to come up with more funds for cleanup costs since residential development was a key part of the master plan for the site. If housing must be scaled back, other alternatives must be offered to make the overall plan work.
Bolender said he and Tapley will meet with state Business and Economic Development agency officials on Wednesday to brief them on the Bainbridge project and seek support.
He said he was encouraged by new studies, paid for by the Navy that could dispute earlier Environmental Protection Agency evaluations of the site‚Äôs pollution.
The BDC is an unusual hybrid agency. Officially, it is a state entity and Cecil County does not contribute anything to its financial support. But the County Commissioners have appointment authority over five members of the panel, including the county‚Äôs economic development director who is a voting member. Vernon Thompson was forced out of that post in August by a Broomell-led majority of the county commissioners. The county is currently conducting a search for his replacement.
One other seat on the BDC is up for re-appointment: Cynthia Rosetti, a political ally of Broomell, who should have no difficulty in getting on Broomell‚Äôs candidate list.