A year after Maryland's brownfields law was passed, it is starting to spur construction projects on properties developers have long avoided.
The state brownfields law, which failed to make it past the state legislature in both 1995 and 1996, allows developers to clean up environmentally contaminated sites for redevelopment without fear of being sued for damages that the contamination caused.
Developers also receive tax breaks and expedited assistance from regulatory agencies in exchange for following state-mandated clean-up policies.
Sixteen sites are now in the program, according to the Maryland Department of the Environment. Five of the sites are in Baltimore City, and the rest are scattered through central and western Maryland.
"That number is consistent with what other states have done in the first year of their brownfields programs," said Shari Wilson, spokeswoman for the MDE.
The state's brownfields efforts will be a key topic of discussion next month in Baltimore at a national conference sponsored by the District-based Brownfields Report newsletter.
"The release from liability is important, but there are a lot of gray areas when it comes to environmental remediation. That lack of clarity can be a big problem," said Bill Struever, president of Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, developers in Baltimore. "What the brownfields law has done is create focus and allow for a more effective plan that can satisfy everybody."
One of the state's leading brownfields projects to date is the redevelopment by Struever Bros. of the old American Can Co. building in East Baltimore. Located in the Canton neighborhood, the one-time cannery was a frequent break-in target after the canning stopped in 1987, and was the site of two PCB spills in 1989. The soil there was also contaminated with arsenic, chromium and lead.
The MDE found that aside from the PCB spills, the soil was contaminated by years of poor industrial waste management in the Harbor district overall, rather than just the American Can Co.
But Struever Bros. delayed their official acquisition of the property until the MDE certified the developers were "inculpable" for the damage. Soil clean-up operations began last fall, and will be done by Feb. 28 at a cost of $56,000.
The building will become an office-retail complex, housing the headquarters of DAP Inc., an international adhesives manufacturer, as well as a state-sponsored technology firm incubator, a bookstore, coffee bar and a restaurant.
Tenants will begin to move in this week, and when the site is filled, which is projected to occur by Labor Day, an estimated 600 jobs will have been created.
"That's really what it's all about, turning an abandoned site that nobody wanted into a high-end commercial site that contributes …