Gov. Martin O'Malley, Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon and children from Maree Farring Elementary School kicked off Earth Week by breaking ground yesterday on an environmental education center that will help anchor a $153 million waterfront restoration project near Baltimore's Brooklyn and Curtis Bay communities.
The cleanup of 22 acres of shoreline along the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River - one of the most contaminated areas in the city's harbor - has led to recovery by the Maryland Port Administration of 30,000 tons of trash, roughly the same weight as 4,000 buses, including timber, concrete, pollutant-containing electrical equipment, more than two dozen shipwrecks and nearly 200,000 gallons of petroleum-tainted water. Some of the debris dates to the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904.
The Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center will be one step in the effort to transform the maritime junkyard into a public park, wildlife preserve and marine terminal that will be built on dredged sand and dirt cleared from the harbor's shipping lanes.
"Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, this land behind us is about to undergo a remarkable transformation," O'Malley said before the groundbreaking. "From pollution to progress, from a place where people for years and years used to dump debris and toxic stuff and everything else to a place where people can actually go with their own kids and bike and hike and yes, maybe even kayak, and enjoy the proximity of the land and the water."
The governor used the ceremony to trumpet a number of environmental reforms achieved during his administration, part of a series of events planned this week that will deal with similar topics. Today, he is scheduled to join elementary, middle and high school students from around the Baltimore region at a field trip to the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge in Laurel, after which he will testify before a U.S. House subcommittee on "Environmental Education: Teaching Our Children to Preserve Our Future."
And Thursday, he plans to sign bills the General Assembly passed during the recently concluded session dealing with the environment and energy, said his spokesman, Rick Abbruzzese.
Although a major global warming measure that sought to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Maryland failed in the waning hours of the legislative session, several other environmental bills passed. They included measures to double the waterfront buffer zone on shoreline development, to require that new public schools and state buildings be built to "green" specifications, to dedicate funding to energy efficiency and conservation, to increase reliance on renewable energy and to fund Chesapeake Bay cleanup projects.
O'Malley cast the Middle Branch restoration project as part of the broader effort to step up environmental protections.
"Instead of looking at this area as a dump, we imagined what it could be," he said.
Dixon, a former elementary school teacher, urged students at the event to write a paper about its significance and asked their teacher to send her copies. She said the project is an example of what could make Maryland an example to other states.
"What we need to do is not kick off Earth Week, we should make Earth Day every day, and make it a part of our everyday living," she said. "We're taking a great dump, can you imagine, a great dump, and we're turning it into a great jewel, a great jewel that's going to benefit all of us."
The communities surrounding Brooklyn and Curtis Bay are thrilled with the change, said Carol Eshelman, executive director of the Brooklyn and Curtis Bay Coalition.
"We are so excited to have reached this stage in the development of this unique urban park," she said. "The Masonville Cove Nature Center will provide Brooklyn and Curtis Bay residents waterfront access for the first time in decades."