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Residents to protest Harbor Point on environmental grounds

As city residents and activists work against what they say could be potential environmental problems from the construction of the 27-acre Harbor Point development, state and federal environmental officials and the developer are expected to outline some of building plans at a public meeting Wednesday.

Stelios Spiliadis, owner of the Inn at the Black Olive, near the Harbor Point site, says he and others in the area want ‘a respectable authority’ to evaluate the possible environmental impact of construction. (Melody Simmons/The Daily Record)

The “open house-style” meeting is set to begin at 5 p.m. at the Morgan Stanley building off Thames Street in Fells Point. It is being held within two days of the passage of as much as $125 million in tax incentives by the City Council for the development, at the site of the former Allied Signal Inc. plant.

Representatives from the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Philadelphia regional office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will answer questions and explain construction and environmental details, said Donna Heron, an EPA spokeswoman from Philadelphia.

Beatty Development Group LLC could break ground by the end of the year.

Buried underneath the site are layers of toxic chromium, which were covered with a nearly 5-foot protective cap during a $100 million cleanup of the site by Honeywell Inc., which acquired Allied Signal in 1999.

Plans to transform the property into a mixed-use development, anchored by a 23-story tower to house a local headquarters for Exelon, call for workers to drill through the protective cap to provide foundations for the steel and glass high-rise.

Such work will require strict monitoring and is the subject of ongoing engineering work and scrutiny, MDE officials said Tuesday.

“Any work would be overseen by MDE and the Environmental Protection Agency,” said Jay Apperson, a MDE spokesman. “The developer has submitted to MDE and EPA a detailed design plan that describes the work that would be done and measures designed to protect the environment.

“The plan includes proposed actions designed to minimize the disturbance to the multi-media cap when pilings are driven, monitoring plans for air and water to indicate whether the work contributes any pollution and mechanisms to suspend work if that does occur.”

The plan is in the process of being reviewed by state and federal officials, Apperson said, and could be ordered to be revised. It must be accepted by both agencies before development could begin.

In the meantime, Stelios Spiliadis, owner of the Inn at the Black Olive, across Caroline Street from the Harbor Point site, said that he and a group of 20 others are preparing to monitor and protest the development because of potential environmental concerns.

“Our goal is to stop putting anything on the ground until a respectable authority evaluates the impact that construction and the outcomes are going to have primarily on our health and the harbor,” Spiliadis said. “We want to pressure the developer to postpone any action until some independent authority that we approve of has evaluated the job. We don’t want to do anything that will jeopardize our health.”

Buried underneath the Harbor Point site are layers of toxic chromium covered with a nearly 5-foot protective cap. Plans call for holes to be drilled through that protective cap during construction of the 27-acre mixed-use development.

They will be joined by Andrew Wolf, an organizer for the service workers union 32BJ SEIU, Local 3231, which represents security guards working in the area. He said Monday that the group’s concerns about the area include questions about “the negative effect of the chromium.”

He phoned Spiliadis on Monday to join forces, he said.

“They stand outside of the sites all day and move around,” Wolf said of the security guards.

The hexavalent chromium buried in the soil at the Harbor Point site is a carcinogen, made more dangerous if it leaks into water, Spiliadis said.

Representatives of the development team said they are working cautiously because of the delicate nature of drilling about 1,000 pylons through the protective cap to anchor the Exelon tower.

Marco Greenberg, an executive with Beatty Development Group, said in a statement Tuesday that the developers plan to outline parts of the engineering plan to the public during the meeting Wednesday.

“This meeting is a repeat of a community information session that we held back in June,” Greenberg said in a statement released by KO Public Affairs, the developer’s marketing group. “We encourage community members and interested parties to come by to learn more about the project and ask questions. We expect to have on hand representatives from our development team, as well as MDE, the EPA and Honeywell to answer questions.”

When asked whether there would be any threat of environmental danger to the immediate communities surrounding the site and the city as a whole, Greenberg answered in a word: “No.”

“The (plan) details environmentally responsible construction means and methods, air monitoring and soil and dust management,” he said.