Planning Assistance in Action
by Kristen E. Humphrey, MLA, Local Assistance and Training Planner
On May 11, 2021, the Maryland Department of Planning (Planning) was awarded its first-ever EPA Community-Wide Assessment Grant from EPA Region III. The grant offers Phase I and II environmental site assessments (ESAs) at no cost to public or private owners of contaminated properties in eastern Baltimore County. (Refer to EPA’s fact sheet, Assessing Brownfield Sites, for a definition and description of Phase I and II ESA processes.)
This three-year, $300,000 grant is part of Planning’s and partner agencies’ on-going efforts to advance and revitalize communities, improve the environment, and strengthen the economy of the state and the Mid-Atlantic region. An environmental site assessment is a critical first step when moving forward with redevelopment or planning recreation-based projects on brownfield sites and other abandoned properties.
Eastern Baltimore County (or the East Side) has endured significant economic hardships with the closing of the area’s industrial plants, including the Bethlehem Steel Corporation, and the inevitable loss of employment. Conducting Brownfield Phase I and II ESAs is essential to repurposing vacant properties, stimulating redevelopment, attracting new commerce, and creating opportunities for a more sustainable and equitable economy.
The area’s waterfront location drew early settlement beginning in 1652. Access to deep ports and navigable waters made the area perfect for growth during the industrial revolution. Much of the southeastern portion of the peninsula, including Sparrows Point and North Point, was purchased by what would become Bethlehem Steel, and steel production began in the 1880s.
The facility became the world’s largest steel mill, stretching nearly four miles, employing almost 30,000 workers, adding nearly 10,000 jobs to other local steel supply chain industries, and supporting considerable residential, commercial, and industrial development in the surrounding area. Operations at the facility continued for over 120 years until it was shuttered in 2012.
The end of the steel manufacturing era meant the community, and the region, lost much of its economic base. Higher-paying jobs with benefits were replaced with lower-paying, sometimes part-time, jobs without benefits. This contributed to lower educational attainment levels and other indicators of stressed communities, such as abandoned properties and rising crime. Concomitantly (and not surprisingly), there have been major environmental impacts to the area from over a century of industrial production.
The target area, which is situated along the Chesapeake Bay, has a series of small rivers and creeks that form several peninsulas. It is bounded by Philadelphia Road and the White Marsh Business Community to the north, by the Chesapeake Bay to the south, and runs from the Little Gunpowder River on the east to the Baltimore City/Baltimore County line on the west.
Within the target area there are 52 census tracts, which include the Perry Hall/White Marsh, Middle River, Bowley’s Quarters, Essex, Lower Back River Neck Peninsula, North Point/Edgemere, Sparrows Point, Dundalk, and Towson communities. Out of a total Baltimore County population of nearly 828,5001, these 52 census tracts are home to almost 172,0002, or roughly 21% of the county’s residents.
As of September 2020, there were approximately 62 brownfield sites in the target area designated on the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) Land Restoration Program (LRP) Map. Some of the sites are also located within a federally designated flood plain. Approximately 20 of these brownfield sites are located within Opportunity Zones, including the areas around the Port of Baltimore Dundalk and Martin State Airport.
Redevelopment is important to address aging housing, commercial properties, and infrastructure; to remove or control environmental contamination; and to attract residents and investment in the eastern Baltimore County target area.
To address these issues, the Community-wide Brownfield Assessment project will focus on Phase I and II ESAs of the many brownfield properties clustered throughout the target area, above and beyond the former steel mill site. That property has been recently redeveloped as Tradepoint Atlantic, a logistics, distribution, manufacturing, and retail site—to spur reuse and redevelopment throughout the community.
The grant award is the culmination of two years of planning and coordination among state and local government partners. Beginning in November 2018 Planning and Baltimore County staff launched a collaborative effort to begin assessing, remediating, and redeveloping brownfields in the county.
County staff provided key feedback regarding site specifications for priority redevelopment areas. These included sites within locally designated growth areas, parcels with sufficient acreage, and sites within watersheds with EPA-approved Total Maximum Daily Load restrictions, in addition to sites located within Opportunity Zones and/or several state and local investment areas.
Together, Planning and county staff produced a list of priority sites for assessment, cleanup, and redevelopment. Planning also enlisted partners at MDE to further refine the priority list, identify critical facts about the current environmental status of the sites, and advise about next steps.
To prepare for the first year of the grant period, which began October 1, 2021, Planning worked closely with Baltimore County and MDE to prepare marketing materials and a communication approach to engage additional brownfield site owners in the target area. Redevelopment of brownfield sites within this region will help reduce overall environmental impacts on the area, create new economic opportunities, and revitalize eastern Baltimore County communities.
Brownfields Assessment Grant
Q and A’s:
What is covered by this grant?
- Access to a list of qualified environmental consultants who can perform ESAs
- 100% of the costs associated with an ESA
- Application fees for the Maryland Voluntary Cleanup Program
- Consultation fees for the MDE Technical Review Service
What is an ESA?
- An ESA will help identify the existence and scope of soil or groundwater contamination (e.g., petroleum, heavy metals, pesticides, or herbicides), as well as the presence of things like asbestos, lead paint, or mold in buildings.
How long is this opportunity available?
- October 1, 2021 – September 30, 2024
Who is eligible to apply? Are there funding limits?
- Public or private commercial property owners with properties located on the eastside of Baltimore County (Council Districts 6 and 7)
- There is no cap on the dollar amount to assess a property
- There is no cap on the number of property owners eligible to take advantage of this program
- Assessments outside of Council districts 6 and 7 will only be funded if there are not enough requests from the pilot jurisdiction
What is the process?
- To get started with an assessment, contact:
Sylvia Mosser, AICP
Resource Conservation Planner
MD Department of Planning
- Property owners will select from a list of pre-approved consulting firms available to conduct an assessment
- Planning will cover 100% of the costs and will directly pay the consultant
How long does the process typically take and cost?
- A combined Phase I and Phase II assessment should take approximately two months, depending on availability/responsiveness of records requests, laboratory turn-around-times, etc.
- The cost of a Phase I assessment can be between $3,000 and $5,000 for smaller properties
- The cost of a Phase II assessment can range from $7,000 to $60,000, depending on the size of the property and the extent of the environmental issues
What is the property clean-up process?
- Property clean-up is not covered under this opportunity
- Unless the contamination is dangerous, applicants have the option of deciding whether or not to proceed with clean-up activities after completing the assessment
What are the benefits to conducting an environmental assessment?
- Potential eligibility for a Brownfield tax credit
- Possible eligibility for MDE programs for clean-up costs
- Baltimore County will help identify potential sources of assistance for clean-up
To learn more about brownfield redevelopment in Maryland, read on and be sure to attend Maryland’s Inaugural Statewide Brownfield Conference on November 16 and 17, 2021.
Please contact Sylvia Mosser, AICP, Resource Conservation Planner at email@example.com or (410) 767-4487, and be sure to follow Planning Practice Monthly for future brownfield redevelopment articles, announcements and updates.
1 United States Census Bureau 5-Year American Community Survey for 2017.