Donnelly presents plan for Coke Point and peninsula
Wednesday, 12 December 2012 10:52

Critics support port’s plan for dredge spoil site

by Ben Boehl

    What is the future of Sparrows Point? The answer to that question could come in January when Environmental Liability Transfer and Hilco Trading put the  Sparrows Point steel mill up for auction. But even if a new buyer is found, the future could still be unclear.
    However, some local residents have ideas of their own, including Edgemere environmental activist Russell Donnelly, who laid out his proposal at a public meeting on Dec. 6.
    One idea being discussed is that the Port of Baltimore could purchase the Coke Point site and place a dredge material management facility at the location.

    Donnelly said he doesn’t support such a project.
    He said he respects the port as an economic engine for the area and wants to see it prosper, but worries that Coke Point will remain a heavy industrial area and  eventually all of Sparrows Point peninsula will become industrial again.
    Another concern for Donnelly is that the dredging could cause an increase in the levels of toxins in local waters. He compared the port proposal to AES Corporation’s stalled plan to build a liquified natural gas (LNG) facility at Sparrows Point.
    Donnelly and members of his team presented a proposal of their own for the area. He called it the Sparrows Point Peninsula New Vision Proposal.
    Donnelly and his team came up with the plan around 2006, but it wasn’t feasible with the steel mill still in operation.
    With the steel mill closed and future unknown, he believes that this is the time to go forward with a new plan.
    “This is an important decision. We are at a crossroads. We have to decide which direction we need to go in,” Donnelly said.
    After an extensive cleanup process, the plan calls for the area to become a tourist destination. Donnelly hopes to see a cruise ship terminal, a ferry terminal, a maritime museum complex and a heliport at the site.
    He speculated that Baltimore City might be interested in moving the USS Constellation from the Inner Harbor to a new location in Sparrows Point and would like to see another historic ship transported to the area.
    The plan also calls for the building of resort-class hotels, because of the lack of such hotels in the Baltimore area. Donnelly believes these features could be used to attract tourists and jobs.
    “We feel this puts Baltimore and Maryland back on the map as a whole, like it used to be,” Donnelly said.
    “We are trying to bring back some of that old glory. I would like to be able to swim in the water before I go, and be able to eat an oyster out of the water.”
    John Long of Clean Bread and Cheese Creek supports Donnelly’s plan and said it is a great opportunity to profile Dundalk’s history.
    “We have so much history in Dundalk and it’s a shame we have ignored it for so long,” Long added.
    Such proposals were not without their critics, however. One of them was Edgemere resident Dave Janiszewski.
    “I think you are scaring and misleading people by comparing this site to LNG, and it’s not,” said Janiszewski, who supports the plan for the port to locate a dredged material dispel facility at the Coke Point site. 
    “Russ doesn’t have a government program that doesn’t have a conspiracy theory,” he claimed.
    State Sen. Norman Stone attended the meeting and asked Donnelly if the situation in Sparrows Point called for such a drastic plan.
    “Russell, I don’t see people in this area leaving in droves. I don’t see many ‘For Sale’ signs,” Stone stated.
    Carolyn Jones, president of the Greater Dundalk Alliance, responded to Stone that the Dundalk area has seen a decline in home ownership and an increase in rental tenants. Stone explained he was referring to the Edgemere and Sparrows Point area.
    Frank Hamons of the Maryland Port Administration said the port wants to work with the community and has set up a Harbor Team made up of community members who meet with him on a regular basis.
    Hamon said he listens to the team and that the port is looking out for the best interests of the area.
    “We will do what is safe to do. We are not here to do harm,” Hamon said.    
    “We live and work here too. We would not go forward with anything that would cause risk to the environment.”
    One of the members of the Harbor Team is Turner Station resident Gloria Nelson.
    She recommended that everyone attend at least one Harbor Team meeting before making a judgement about the port’s Coke Point proposal. Nelson said that dredging is “not always a bad thing” and she appreciates the port’s commitment to the community.
    “This is the only state entity that says ‘let’s help Dundalk, Turners Station and Bear Creek with jobs.’”
    One question about Donnelly’s plan is how to obtain money to clean up the steel mill site.    
    Bart S. Fisher, an attorney who represented the Sparrows Point Action Team, said that when the lawsuit was filed against steel mill owner RG Steel for environmental damages, the steel mill filed for bankruptcy within hours. It is unknown if they will ever receive compensation.
    One of the steelworkers who came to the meeting said he believes that Fisher is correct that RG shut down to avoid the lawsuit, but blamed the Sparrows Point Action Team for costing him and other steelworkers jobs.
    “Just remember some people at Sparrows Point don’t have a job and won’t have a Merry Christmas,” the steelworker said.