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Life after MELP

August 14, 2012

City leaders indicate that it has proved to be more difficult than expected to drive a stake through the heart of the old municipal light plant, an industrial dreadnought that generated Hagerstown’s electricity for much of the 20th century, but now sits sullenly along the banks of Antietam Creek.

The council hopes to get a share of the $5 million from metal in and around the massive old hulk, but the price of scrap has been dropping of late, making demolition companies reluctant to take on the task.

Worse, the building is rife with asbestos, greatly increasing the cost.

Perhaps there are creative ways to deal with the problem.

The city might start by contacting Maryland Public Safety Secretary Gary Maynard, who has offered crews of inmates for local-government use. Further, the state prison system under Maynard has shown interest in the “industrial recycling” of problematic old complexes, including the obsolete state prison at Jessup.

But even if no agreeable solutions present themselves, tearing down the plant should be a city priority. Technically, tearing it down is a craw-sticking endeavor that uses up to $5 million in taxes with nothing left to show for the money once it’s spent.

But if ever there were such a thing as addition by subtraction, the elimination of the MELP plant would be it. The rotting industrial carcass dominates the East End, and is certainly not a symbol of what Hagerstown is desirous of becoming.

Before any renewal can occur on the East End, the light plant must go.

At the same time, however, we would urge the city to continue apace with developing concepts for the great swath of city real estate between Franklin Street and Antietam Creek. Already, the hospital is gone, and the light plant is on its way out. And if the city relocates the baseball stadium, there will be a gaping expanse of empty land waiting for the proper land-use vision.

This is, or should be, a valuable tract with waterfront that could be developed into something special. It goes without saying that watercourses are a significant asset that many communities have parlayed into meaningful commercial and recreational assets.

So with that in mind, the mission of the city should be twofold: It should take whatever steps are necessary to demolish the old light plant, and it should have an idea of what will take its place when it’s gone.

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