PORT DEPOSIT — Following the recent news that Amazon will open a facility in Cecil County, county and state officials say that there’s more buzz surrounding the possible development of the long-dormant Bainbridge property.
Officials were quick to note, however, that the site of the former U.S. Navy training center still requires significant investment in infrastructure and environmental remediation to be viable. County officials also did not outright dismiss a tax increase to pay for the costs, which are estimated to be at least $10 million.
A number of challenges stand between Bainbridge and significant economic development though.
Deactivated in 1986, the site property was later transferred to the Bainbridge Development Corporation. Since then, the site has been dormant, as environmental issues on the property have delayed development for economic use.
When the 1,200-acre property was transferred, the deed of trust required the U.S. Navy to restore the site’s property to meet state and federal environmental regulations. Later on, the BDC found environmental issues, and the Navy has been slow to address the issue. Currently, the Navy is funding a $1.5 million study to determine the site’s issues.
Despite the delay, officials say that they’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, a light that may be a boon to Cecil County’s economy.
“The spotlight that’s been cast on us because of the Amazon facility is going to act as an anchor facility that’s going to attract other corporate entities to go into Bainbridge,” said Delegate Kevin Hornberger, chair of the Cecil County delegation, at District 35 night in Annapolis on Monday. “We’re going to ride that tide now that we have some interest from some of the bigger players.”
Mike Pugh, the chair of the BDC’s board of directors, said the Amazon news has generated interest in the Bainbridge site.
“We’re happy that Amazon has moved into the county because business makes business,” he said. “The fact that it’s happening one place makes it conducive some place else. We have continued to be in contact with prospects that have shown varying levels of interest in the Bainbridge site.”
While Pugh said he didn’t want to “imply that there are flocks of them,” he said that most of the interested businesses are of a larger size.
What stands in the way of development is the environmental remediation.
“Our goal is to have the results of the study by the early fall of this year,” Pugh said. “From these results, our hope is to finalize our discussions with the Navy as far as their responsibilities for the cost of remediation.”
Hornberger said Bainbridge, in the end, may prove to be more attractive than other sites in the state that require environmental remediation.
“In terms of environmental remediation, when you compare the Bainbridge site to some other sites in Baltimore City especially, Bainbridge is much more attractive,” he said. “My hope is that there’ll be renewed interest and visibility.”
“My push since I got elected was to have some entity break ground there before the end of my term,” Hornberger said. “I don’t care if it’s McDonald’s. I want something there.”
Cecil County Executive Alan McCarthy shared Hornberger’s optimism, but said the site needs upgrades in order to be viable to bigger businesses.
“One of the big problems is we don’t have the infrastructure,” he said, noting that the site lacks public water and sewer. “We’re trying to find the money. We have to have these things done or we’re not going to have business there.”
In October, the county council approved two resolutions to amend the county’s master water and sewer plan that moved the Bainbridge property up in priority from scheduled service within 10 years to scheduled service within five years. But efforts are already underway to provide both water and sewer services as early as 2018.
However, it would cost approximately $10 million to upgrade Bainbridge’s water, sewer, gas and electric, McCarthy said.
Asked whether he would consider a tax increase to pay for necessary upgrades, McCarthy was noncommittal, but said “everything’s a possibility.” He added he’s seeking funding from the state and the BDC to help fund the infrastructure upgrades.
“I’m going to try to make this budget work without any new taxes,” McCarthy said.
“We’ve held the line on taxes for four years,” McCarthy said, noting that wages and costs will always increase, and “if you don’t pay people a decent salary, they’ll go elsewhere.”
Cecil County Councilman George Patchell, who represents the Bainbridge area, said he’s optimistic that there may not be a need for a tax increase.
“I’m more optimistic now than I’ve ever been that we’re going to see development at Bainbridge,” he said. “We need to solve the infrastructure issues, but I think there’s a real commitment from the county, and I believe there’s going to be a renewed commitment from the town of Perryville.”
“I think we could do without a tax increase. I think if we work collectively together, we can find a much more reasonable number to supply the infrastructure that’s necessary.”
Council Vice President Dan Schneckenburger said that he’s totally opposed to a tax increase. The councilman said that the county still has other large parcels of lands that can be developed for significant projects.
But he said his goal is also to break ground at Bainbridge this year.
“The first (business) will break the ice,” he said. “There’s a lot of potential for different types of projects.”
Patchell said he’s heard from the BDC that several prospects have turned down opportunities to locate at the site.
“What has been reported to us by Bainbridge Development Corporation is that they’ve had prospects in the past, but because of the lack of infrastructure it was really difficult to get a commitment out of them,” he said. “At some point we need to make an investment in the fact that we’re going to provide infrastructure so that the businesses that want to locate will know that the county’s going to support their effort.”
Pugh said that the BDC is pursuing “multiple potential sources of funding,” but talks are mostly exploratory, for the time being.
“We’re also working diligently to try and secure as many other sources of supplemental income,” he said.
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