If things go as planned, water could be flowing again in two years at the former Bainbridge Naval Training Center on a hill above Port Deposit overlooking the Susquehanna River.
With the water comes a chance of a reduced number of houses proposed in a plan to redevelop the 1,200-acre former Navy boot camp that closed in 1976.
It also opens the door for a second real estate development company to take a new look at a site it abandoned in frustration last summer after waiting three years for the county to come up with a plan to provide water and sewerage to Bainbridge.
Cecil County commissioners voted last week to authorize the county's economic development director to seek state funding for a study to review the cost of a regional water and sewage system between the towns of Port Deposit and Perryville. The joint system also would serve Bainbridge.
Previous studies have indicated that a regional plan would significantly reduce the cost of getting water and sewerage to Bainbridge, the site of a proposed mixed-use community featuring 2,000 homes, an office campus, retirement center, hotel and recreational facilities.
The housing part of the development has been a bone of contention for area residents, who have voiced strong opposition to 2,000 homes, saying that would overload roads and strain the county's school system.
"If the regional plan saves a significant amount of money, we will not need as many houses [at Bainbridge]," said Clark Turner, president of Clark Turner Cos., a Bel Air-based residential and commercial developer.
"Part of what drives the number of residential units is all the things we have to pay for, including renovation of the Tome School buildings, on-site infrastructure, the library site, the school site, the veterans cemetery and to redo the amphitheater," Turner said.
Until the study is done, Turner said, he could not estimate how many fewer houses could be constructed on the site and still make the project economically feasible.
Turner is part of a development team that has an exclusive negotiating agreement with the Bainbridge Development Corp., a quasi-public agency created by the General Assembly in 1999 to oversee development of the Bainbridge site.
Other members of the team include: Richard M. Alter, president of Columbia-based Manekin LLC; John Paterakis, a Baltimore bakery owner and commercial builder; and Steven P. Risk, president of Paul Risk Associates Inc. of Quarryville, Pa.
The team has proposed a $750 million development plan for Bainbridge featuring tree-lined boulevards, extensive landscaping, clock towers and a fishing pier on the lake. They say it would be a place where residents can live, work and play and that it would set new standards and escalate the level of future development in Cecil County.
Housing has been the sticking point, eliciting fierce opposition from residents.
"We don't want 2,000 houses there," said Bob Atkinson, who lives just outside the main gate to the Bainbridge property.
Phyllis Kilby has complained that 2,000 houses plus the cars from workers at the Bainbridge site would put a strain on the one-lane roads in the region. She also has expressed concern over the impact of so many houses on the county's school system.
Agreement on a regional water and sewerage project also interests James M. DeFrancia, president of Reston, Va.-based Lowe Enterprises Community Development Inc. In May, he said the company would be willing to offer a new development proposal for the property if the water and sewer problem were ever solved.
Lowe captured the attention of county officials and residents in the summer of 2000 when it announced plans for a $500 million resort, conference center and business park - featuring at least one golf course - at Bainbridge.
Lowe abandoned its plans for Bainbridge last summer. "They got tired of waiting for water and sewage," said Harland R. Graef, chairman of the Bainbridge Development Corp.
Moves by town officials of Perryville and Port Deposit toward a regional plan could have much wider impact on the county than the development of Bainbridge, according to Kilby.
She said the agreement could serve as a model for other towns in the county to work together on similar water and sewerage plans.
After last summer's drought put pressure on their water supplies, representatives of eight incorporated Cecil County towns began working together to address water and sewerage issues.
"It would sent a signal to the other towns that something like this could work," Kilby said of the agreement between Perryville and Port Deposit.
The Perryville and Port Deposit regional water plan was first proposed several years ago. But it was rejected by the former mayor of Port Deposit, Wayne Tome, who expressed concern over losing control of the town's water hookups, a major source of revenue for towns.
Things changed in May when Charles Robert "Rob" Flayhart was elected mayor of Port Deposit. His campaign was centered on support for the regional water plan.
Flayhart's support of the regional plan opened the door to Perryville to come in.
"If it's beneficial for our community and for our residents, we will do it," said Perryville Town Administrator Eric Morsicato. "We are very interested in moving forward."
Flayhart said he is agreeable to the formation of a region system as long as it does not increase the water bills of Port Deposit residents. "I want it to lower the amount people pay," he said, "not just match it."
According to W. Paul Gilbert, director of the Cecil County office of economic development, a previous study estimated that it would cost $24 million to provide a new water and sewerage system for Bainbridge and Port Deposit.
It would cost another $11 million to upgrade Perryville's system. He said upgrading and expanding Perryville's system to serve all three areas would cost about $15 million.
To reconfirm these savings, the BDC has asked George, Miles & Buhr LLC, an engineering and consultant company that has offices in Hunt Valley, to take a new look at the economics of a regional plan.
Assuming that the new study will show that the regional plan would be cost-effective and would not raise residents' water bills, Gilbert said, it could finally open the door to development of Bainbridge.