Aerospace giant Lockheed Martin Corp. has found toxic chemicals, including PCBs, solvents and metals, in the soil and groundwater of the company's sprawling Middle River property, including an undeveloped parcel envisioned as the keystone to Baltimore County's waterfront renaissance.
Since last year, Lockheed Martin officials have been measuring official and community reaction to a proposed land and water destination on 97 acres near Dark Head Cove. Mentioned in those plans were a 200-room hotel, townhouses, condominiums, shops and a lagoon-front boardwalk.
Meredith Rouse Davis, a Lockheed Martin spokeswoman, said a preliminary assessment by Tetra Tech Inc., a California firm hired by the company to test for environmental problems, indicates "no danger to site workers or visitors because everything found so far is under asphalt, concrete or grass."
This month, the company submitted to the Maryland Department of the Environment a "Voluntary Cleanup Application," through which Lockheed Martin or a developer could obtain a number of incentives, including low-cost loans and grants for site remediation.
Davis said that the environmental cleanup will enhance the marketability of the property for future development. And, she said, the cleanup and likely development will not reduce the number of jobs or affect the corporation's defense mission.
"We get calls every day from developers wanting to purchase the property," she said. "We are ultimately responsible for the cleanup. ... With developers or potential residents knowing that the property has been cleaned up, it gives people peace of mind."
In late 2003, Lockheed Martin officials said they contracted Tetra Tech to examine their property after contamination was discovered in neighboring Martin State Airport. Lockheed would not reveal how much the study and possible cleanup will cost.
The in-house examination, as well as MDE's look at the Lockheed Martin findings, are continuing. The state will reply to the company's application by early November.
Under what company officials call phase one of the in-house study, findings and documents were submitted to MDE. The agency can concur with Tetra Tech's findings, make other recommendations or conduct on-site inspections.
Starting in the early 1930s, the 163-acre tract was the site of the massive Glenn L. Martin airplane factories. During World War II, more than 50,000 people worked round-the-clock shifts while aircraft - from bombers to giant seaplanes - were built, serviced and sent airborne. After the war, Martin produced commercial airliners.
"Considering the history of the place, it's surprising that more contaminants were not found," said Sarah H. Medearis, a project engineer and manager for Lockheed Martin's East Coast properties.
Today, Lockheed Martin employs about 1,800 workers at the site, and Middle River Aircraft Systems, also on the property, employs about 680. There are several other smaller companies adjacent to the property.
Some public officials and community leaders, while registering some surprise that they were not told of the contamination and study, have said they favor a waterfront destination at Dark Head Cove. A similar plan for a tourist destination at Middle River's headwaters was dropped several years ago.
Wilson Point Civic Improvement Association President Jack Schultz said that one of his chief concerns is traffic.
"Most of what we've [recently] been told about any new development has been about re-engineering the roads because right now, Wilson Point Road could not take a lot more traffic, Schultz said.
Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder said he has been shown several sets of drawings for Lockheed Martin's development plan and liked the concept.
"But the idea seemed to fall off the table," said Bartenfelder. "I guess the environmental cleanup has to take priority."
County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said he expects the waterfront destination to move forward after the cleanup.
"I am confident that Lockheed Martin will come in with multi-use, public opportunity development," Smith said. "There will likely be offices, retail shops, perhaps a hotel or conference center, restaurants and residential properties on Dark Head Cove."
"I applaud them for taking a solid approach to future development of a very valuable resource," Smith said.
Lockheed Martin's property is near other sites being considered for redevelopment projects on the county's east side.
Not far from Lockheed Martin on Eastern Boulevard, federal officials are expected to put up for auction later this year the Middle River Depot, a 1.9-million-square- foot property that residents would like to see converted into mixed use, although it is zoned for heavy manufacturing.
The Maryland Historical Trust is attempting to save an airplane factory there designed in the 1940s by Albert Kahn, recognized as one of the 20th century's most influential industrial architects.
Connecting White Marsh with Middle River, the $60 million Route 43 extension is expected to open this winter. Traffic will exit next to the depot property. And a 1,000-acre office and industrial park called Crossroads@95 is planned for Route 43, closer to White Marsh. Officials foresee new pharmaceutical and technology firms along the highway creating thousands of jobs.
John Becker, president of the county Marine Trades Association, said the Dark Head Cove development would be "a marriage of recreation and the water.
"With everything going on, this is really an exciting time," Becker said.