Harbor Point developers detail environmental safeguards for neighbors

Harbor Point developers detail environmental safeguards for neighbors
Site of the proposed Harbor Point development. Fells Point is on the left and some of the community's business owners and residents want more assurances the new development will not release a carcinogen when builders break through a concrete cap that prevents hexavalent chromium from leeching into the Inner Harbor. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

The developer planning to build a new waterfront headquarters for Exelon Corp. on the site of a former chromium-processing plant assured Fells Point-area residents Thursday night that the Harbor Point project could be built safely without releasing the highly contaminated soil and groundwater entombed beneath the site.

Speaking to about 100 people gathered at the Morgan Stanley brokerage building at Harbor Point, representatives of Beatty Development Group outlined steps they would take to prevent hazardous dust from being kicked up when crews excavate through the clean soil and plastic capping the contamination and drive 1,100 pilings into the ground.


Marco Greenberg, vice president for Beatty, said his development team included the "best and brightest" consultants and that they were committed to protecting the environment while developing Harbor Point.

The meeting at the Morgan Stanley brokerage building next to the Exelon site was arranged by Councilman James B. Kraft to detail the safeguards planned for the project and to answer the public's questions. Some Fells Point residents have expressed concerns that construction could endanger their health, and a few chafed at the format of the session, in which residents were only allowed to ask questions in writing.

The chromium plant, which operated on the harbor for 140 years, was removed, and the contaminated soil was capped with five feet of clean dirt, gravel and a thick plastic liner. Tainted groundwater, which once allowed 62 pounds of chromium to leak into the harbor daily, has been contained by an underground wall built around the plant site.

The developer plans to excavate into the cap to drive the pilings, temporarily exposing the contaminated soil. Plans are to monitor dust levels and to take steps to control it, shutting down construction if necessary.

State and federal regulators ordered changes to Beatty's plan to clarify and detail those safeguards, and the developer submitted those changes earlier this week.

The Baltimore Sun reported last month that chromium has been found in groundwater beyond the Harbor Point site, including beneath the Living Classrooms Foundation campus on Caroline Street.

Regulators and a representative of Honeywell, the company that inherited the chromium plant and responsibility for the site, said the contamination beneath Living Classrooms occurred before the plant ceased operating in the 1980s, and there's no indication that it is significantly contaminating the Inner Harbor.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Maryland Department of the Environment also ordered the developer to retest the air around Harbor Point and in other nearby neighborhoods after finding fault with a previous round of air sampling done by a consultant for Beatty. The earlier air tests found unusually high levels of hexavalent chromium, but regulators said errors in the sampling and analysis may have resulted in artificially high readings.

Beatty had hoped to break ground on the project in mid-October, but the government shutdown and now changes ordered by regulators have delayed the project's timetable. New air testing is planned over the next month.

Jonathan Flesher, Beatty's development director, said construction would not begin until the new air tests are finished and all plans approved by regulators.

"As soon as they say we can go," he said, "we'll go."