According to Kurt Nagle, president and CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities, such environmental challenges are common for large ports.

"It's clearly part and parcel of what our members do," Nagle said of environmental remediation efforts. "Given the developed state of at least most of the areas in and around port areas, there are relatively few green field sites that tend to be available, so most of the development would be redevelopment of sites that had seen at least some level of industrial activity."

Helen Delich Bentley, a former Maryland congresswoman who serves as an adviser to the port administration, said the challenges are real, but that Baltimore has a head start on competitors because of its deep channel and berths.

She said Baltimore's port is also "ahead of the game" in addressing environmental hurdles, including at Sparrows Point.

"It is going to take a lot of cleanup down there, but you know what? There is no other space of that size — over 3,000 acres — on the East Coast that is available anywhere," said Bentley, for whom the Baltimore port is named. "Everything can be done. It just may take longer than you want, and it may cost more than you want. But it can be done."

Bill Burwell, director of the U.S. Export Assistance Center in Baltimore, said the port has achieved growth in the past year by investing in new shipping arrangements as demand arises and serving as the central hub for an "ecosystem" of trade experts who can advise local companies on international business ventures.

"It's an amazing asset for the region and the state," Burwell said. "The port has been instrumental in getting trade back up to pre-recession numbers or better."

In all, the port generates about $3 billion a year in personal wages and salaries, provides more than 14,600 jobs and supports more than 40,000 additional jobs, according to state officials. It generates about $300 million a year in state and local taxes.

Gov. Martin O'Malley and other state leaders strongly backed a public-private partnership in 2009 with Ports America to pay for hundreds of millions of dollars in improvements to the Baltimore port.

"They recognize the benefits that the port brings in terms of economic impact, so they are on our side, on our team," White said. "And the environmental challenges are something we're all going to have to face together."

"It's a direction that we're going in," said Smith, "making the business engine one that is environmentally friendly."

By the numbers

The port of Baltimore ranks:

•1st nationally, in handling of automobiles and light trucks, farm and construction machinery

•1st nationally, in imported forest products, imported sugar, imported aluminum and imported gypsum

•2nd nationally, in exported coal and imported iron ore

•9th nationally, for dollar value of international cargo

•11th nationally, for international cargo tonnage

Source: Maryland Department of Transportation

e:topic id="ORGOV000332">Maryland Department of Transportation