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Can Fairfield Be Reborn?


Fairfield has gone through several rapid transformations. What 100 years ago was an idyllic village on Curtis Bay became a center for vegetable and oyster canning. Remnants of that rural atmosphere quickly disappeared during World War II, when Fairfield briefly became the largest shipyard on the East Coast, assembling Liberty ships.

After peace came, Fairfield became home for public housing projects and chemical industries.

Today, Fairfield is on the threshold of further changes. Now part of Baltimore's $100 million empowerment zone, it is seen as the site of an innovative eco-industrial park.

If this sounds fanciful, think again.

Even though planning of the eco-industrial park is still in the beginning stages, a New Jersey-based waste management company has announced it will open a $3 million facility in Fairfield to process the plastic, glass and metal that are collected through Baltimore City's recycling efforts. The facility, to be developed and built by Struever Bros., Eccles & Rouse, is the focal point for the new eco-industrial park which currently exists only as a theoretical concept advocated by such think tanks as the Cornell Center for the Environment and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

They want to duplicate an existing "industrial ecosystem" in Kalundborg, Denmark, where several industries have been working together in a symbiotic way for the past 20 years. An oil refinery provides sulfur for a local chemical plant, heat for greenhouses and fish farms, gas and cooling water for a power generating station.

The Japanese are studying the Danish model; so is the President's Council for Sustainable Development, which has chosen Fairfield, along with Chattanooga, Tenn., Brownsville, Texas, and Cape Charles, Va., as national demonstration sites. If the Danish model is to work here, the trick is to create enough mutually beneficial business relationships to make it profitable to everyone.

This is the main challenge in Fairfield.

Several hurdles must be cleared before coordinated development activity can even begin. Among them is the complicated ownership of Fairfield land that has splintered the industrial area into a patchwork of disconnected parcels by a group of owners.

At least three workshops have focused on Fairfield's prospects in the past month alone. We urge the city now to go from words to action and develop a master plan so that the eco-industrial park concept can be implemented. Jobs cannot wait.

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