Baltimore County officials will meet next week with representatives from Bethlehem Steel Corp. to iron out an agreement that would turn over to the county 350 acres at Sparrows Point for an industrial park and 26 acres for use as a fire academy and maintenance facility.
Anthony J. Haley, acting director of the county Economic Development Commission, said the county and the steelmaker reached a tentative agreement in a 4 1/2 -hour meeting last Thursday.
He said county officials and Bethlehem attorneys will review the agreement next week and that, if no problems arise, the land could be deeded to the county by the end of the year.
"Barring any major problems coming up, it looks like we have an agreement," he said yesterday.
He said the land would be sold to be developed into an industrial park as part of an effort proposed in the early 1980s to create jobs and stimulate the ailing economy in the county's southeast corridor.
Ted Baldwin, a spokesman for Bethlehem, confirmed that a meeting was held last week but said only that an agreement is "currently being prepared."
An agreement involving the land has been discussed since 1987, when the county awarded Bethlehem a $3 million-a-year break in its utility taxes in exchange for the acreage.
The county never has taken possession of the land, however, because of a dispute over who would be liable if a future tenant sued over any toxic materials found at the site.
Under the new agreement, Mr. Haley said, if the county is held liable it will have recourse to bring Bethlehem into the litigation.
"The important thing is that the taxpayers of Baltimore County will not be held liable for any unwarranted liabilities," he said.
The county has spent $800,000 to plan improvements at the site -- which had been used mainly for storage and housing for workers -- and to study potential pollution problems. The studies have turned up no evidence of toxic contaminants, Mr. Haley said.
The county also is spending $1.8 million a year to operate the company's former Sparrows Point fire station on land Bethlehem owns.
In recent months, Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden had expressed frustration at the lack of progress toward an agreement and had hinted at ending the tax break awarded by his predecessor, Dennis F. Rasmussen.
Mr. Rasmussen spent $559,000 for work on a proposed $20 million fire training academy and maintenance facility on a 26-acre tract that is part of the agreement.
But Mr. Hayden, who declined to finance the project in this year's capital budget, said yesterday that if a fire training academy is built at the site, it will be scaled back considerably.
"At this point, we're still looking at all the options," Mr. Hayden said.