Even with the sun shining brightly on a weekday morning, a tree branch falling onto a piece of metal or leaves rustling across the deserted grounds at Simkins Mill property has an unsettling effect.
But the future may be brighter for the River Road property, where the former box factory stopped operating in 2003 after a fire damaged the mill.
Simkins Industries, owners of the 65.53 acres near the Patapsco River, has applied to be part of the state's Voluntary Cleanup Program.
The application is now under review by the Maryland Department of the Environment, which oversees the program for cleanups of properties that may contain hazardous substances.
"This is significant," said 1st District Councilman Tom Quirk, whose district includes the mill property in western Catonsville up to the Howard County border.
Simkins has proposed a Reponse Action Plan to clean up the property, which includes a cemetery that had been associated with a previously demolished church and a former landfill, as well as a former power plant, former mill, vacant residences and other buildings.
"It's unsafe," Quirk said. "I bicycle by there all the time. People have been dumping stuff down there."
Quirk said having the property cleaned up, at the owners' expense, could lead to future uses that may include it as part of the state's park system.
"Now there's serious talk about demolition of the structure. There are so many people who want to see it cleaned up," said Quirk, crediting the local Friends of the Patapsco Valley Heritage Greenway group for their determination to have the issues on the property addressed.
Quirk said the involvement of Arnold Jablon, the director of the county's Department of Permits, Approvals and Inspections, also helped move the project along.
"It's good to see action coming out of this process," Quirk said.
Quirk was among the concerned community residents who attended a Nov. 28 public hearing on the company's plans for the property. Representatives of the Maryland Department of the Environment were also at the meeting, which was held to meet one of the requirements for Voluntary Cleanup Program participation.
Simkins applied for the Voluntary Cleanup Program in 2008 and was denied, according to a fact sheet from the Maryland Department of the Environment. In January, 2011, it submitted a new application and was accepted, with the requirement that the company develop a plan to address the lead found in the ground near the mill building and power plant, according to the release.
Lead and benzo(a)pyrene were the only contaminants detected in the soil at unacceptable levels during a 2012 investigation by the department, according to a presentation at last week's meeting. Removing the soil is expected to be sufficient to alleviate the problem.
That removal would be part of the company's overall Response Action Plan.
"This is a proposed plan to remediate the property for future use," said Jay Apperson, a spokesmen for the Department of the Environment.
"The applicant, what they get out of it, is limited liability protection," he said. "It gives them some level of comfort."
Work is expected to begin in 2013 following state approval.