10:25 AM EDT, October 25, 2012
Proving once again that it's always better to be late than not at all, the state has finally completed a new "nature area" at Masonville Cove, the second act in a $153 million restoration of a longtime dumping ground on the southern side of Baltimore's harbor.
Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and assorted dignitaries turned out Wednesday to mark the official opening of the 11-acre waterfront park, which features walking trails and a pier for fishing or launching canoes and kayaks. Brown joined students from the Friendship Academy in planting wetland grasses along a shoreline once strewn with rubble but now covered with a layer of clean white sand.
Officials with the Maryland Port Administration had said the area would be ready for public use by the end of last year. But the opening was delayed because more cleanup was needed of contaminated sediment on the shallow cove's bottom than had been expected, according to port spokesman Richard Scher. It wasn't immediately known if the extra cleanup added to the $22 million cost of this phase of the restoration.
It's been about 70 years since the public's had access to the cove along the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River. It was taken over by the railroad in the 1950s, and eventually a scrapyard. The port took it over in 2000, and over the next several years hauled away 61,000 tons of debris, including rusted remains of derelict vessels, and cleaned up hundreds of thousands of gallons of water tainted with oil.
The state agency has converted a portion of the shoreline into an impoundment for muck dredged out of the harbor to maintain shipping channels. But to win the support of neighboring residents, the port pledged to restore 52 acres bordering the cove, requiring removal of tons of soil riddled with toxic chemicals.
The park complements a "near-zero net-energy" environmental education center built there three years ago, run by the Living Classrooms Foundation, the National Aquarium and the Brooklyn-Curtis Bay Coalition, known as BayBrook. Eventually, another 41 acres of land are to be restored, much of it for wildlife habitat.
Meanwhile, people are welcome to stroll the paths, fish, paddle, and enjoy the views of waterfowl sheltering in the cove, with downtown Baltimore's skyline as a backdrop.
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