By Timothy B. Wheeler, The Baltimore Sun
8:48 PM EDT, September 11, 2013
The developer planning to build an office tower at Harbor Point agreed Wednesday night to hold another public meeting on the controversial project after Fells Point residents who showed up for an open house there demanded a more formal discussion of the safety of developing the former chemical plant site.
Councilman James B. Kraft, who represents Fells Point and who also attended the open house, pressed for the meeting after saying he wanted to give his constituents an opportunity to have their questions answered about precautions planned for keeping contaminated soil and ground water from being released by the project.
A chromium ore processing plant operated on the waterfront site for 140 years before being closed in 1985. The plant's owner spent more than $100 million remediating the site because one form of chromium causes cancer if inhaled or ingested. But rather than dig up chromium-laced soil, officials decided instead to bury it beneath a five-foot "cap" of clean soil, plastic and gravel. An underground barrier was also built to keep tainted ground water from seeping into the Inner Harbor.
Regulators have given Beatty Development Group preliminary approval to build a 22-story office building for Exelon Corp. on the 27-acre site. To do that, a series of openings will have to be made in the cap, at least briefly exposing tainted soil below in order to drive more than 1,000 pilings deep into the ground.
Officials say precautions are being taken to ensure none of the contamination escapes. Dust levels are to be closely monitored during the operation, and they say work will be stopped if there's any indication chromium is getting into the air.
About 50 people, plus a class of University of Maryland social-work students, attended the three-hour session Wednesday evening at the Morgan Stanley building on Thames Street, where they had a chance to view posters depicting the project and to quiz representatives of Beatty as well as federal and state environmental officials.
But several attendees said they remained unconvinced of the project's safety and complained that the open-house format did not present them with enough information.
"These are pretty pictures, but we don't have a presentation here that allows us to ask questions as a group and get a reply," said Pauline Spiliadis, a Fells Point resident whose husband, Black Olive restaurant owner Stelios Spiliadis, has been a vocal critic of the project's environmental impact.
Kraft said the new meeting time and place would be announced later.
"I want everybody's questions answered … before we move forward," Kraft said. He added that he doesn't expect everyone to be satisfied by what they hear, but "they need to be dealt with."
A group of Fells Point residents who call themselves "Baltimoreans for Intelligent Development," said they want more details about the environmental impacts of the project. Members said they want an independent third-party review of the safety of the construction plans.
"We're not trying to stop development," said one member, Jill Bell. We just want to be sure it's safe."
Beatty executives said they would be happy to answer residents' questions. But Jonathan Flesher, senior development director for the company, said the project already has ample outside oversight from federal and state regulators as well as from Honeywell, the company that owns the site and retains liability for ensuring none of the contamination escapes. Flesher noted that the developer already had held one other public meeting in June, which was attended by 85 people.
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