The U.S. Department of Defense has given a $1 million grant to the Bainbridge Development Corporation to assess the condition of the soils on the 1,200-acre site of the former Bainbridge Naval Training Center in Port Deposit, where redevelopment is stalled once again.
The one-year grant, which came from the DOD's Office of Economic Adjustment, went into effect Sept. 1 and lasts through Aug. 30, 2017.
"We are aiming for the studies and the project to be completed in April of 2017," Toni Lozzi, project coordinator with the Bainbridge Development Corporation, said Wednesday.
The Maryland Department of the Environment requires an up-to-date, comprehensive assessment of potential contamination and health hazards before it grants approval for a redevelopment project, such as the mixed-use development previously proposed for the site, according to Lozzi.
"There has to be certain assurances that there isn't contamination on the property that could end up being a health risk," she said.
The first part of the project being funded by the DOD grant involves creating a data map that shows every area where previous soil tests have been completed, as well as the infrastructure on site and the uses of the property.
Lozzi said the "dynamic web interface" will show what parts of the site need further environmental study as well as what parts would be best suited for development.
The tests will then be conducted, followed by a "characterization report" detailing the parts of the site that are best for development, especially residential development, along with a risk assessment that indicates what sort of risks to human health and the environment are there.
The BDC must then develop a remediation strategy to deal with contaminated areas. Once that is determined, the organization can put together a new redevelopment plan.
"We still don't have enough environmental information to really, properly be able to determine the land use," Lozzi said.
A redevelopment plan was put forth in 2005, but Lozzi noted it is outdated, and a new plan must be created that takes into account the current condition of the property, and the state of the regional market.
There will also be public hearings on the plan, and local and state governments "will be heavily involved," Lozzi said.
The site, which overlooks the Town of Port Deposit and the Susquehanna River, was used for naval recruit training and service schools from 1942 to 1976. The land had been the home of the Tome School for Boys during the late 1800s and early 1900s, and some of the school buildings were used for naval training.
The school's three-story, historic Memorial Hall was gutted in a fire in the fall of 2013 that investigators say was arson.
The site has been open for public tours in recent years, and Lozzi stressed it is safe to visit.
"It's contamination in the soil, so it's not a public health hazard to actually be out on the site," she said.
Her organization, which the Maryland General Assembly created in 1999 to oversee the redevelopment, has also been working with Port Deposit and Cecil County officials to upgrade the infrastructure on-site and provide water and sewer service, Lozzi said.
The lack of infrastructure prevented two potential developers from building, according to Lozzi.
"We did have two very good prospects and candidates that made it to the site selection process... because of the lack of infrastructure and water and sewer on site we were not able to land those prospects," Lozzi said.