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Lawmaker to seek state funds to demolish former power plant

January 23, 2013|By KAUSTUV BASU and C.J. LOVELACE | kaustuv.basu@herald-mail.com; cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS — State Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said Tuesday that he will file a bond bill request for $300,000 during the current session of the Maryland General Assembly to help offset the cost of tearing down the former Municipal Electric Light Plant in Hagerstown’s East End.

He said the demolition could be part of a larger plan to revitalize Hagerstown.

“The purpose of my bond bill would be to demolish the building and abatement of any toxic materials,” Donoghue said.

The MELP facility has been described by state lawmakers and local officials as an eyesore, a health hazard and a relic of the past.

City of Hagerstown officials have been working for years to forge a deal with the property’s current owner to demolish the blighted building, remediate environmental issues inside and reclaim the land.

David Harshman, who’s owned the 2.96-acre property that borders on the Antietam Creek at the intersection of Eastern Boulevard south and Mt. Aetna Road since 1996, has requested $1 million from the city for their share of the demolition.

Harshman has said intends to turn the land back over to the city once it’s been cleaned up.

“To my knowledge, the last time that plant was fired up was in the ’70s. It became more and more of an eyesore, broken windows, trespassing people sleeping in the plant, to the point where they had to put a fence around it,” Donogue said. “My goal is to take care of this issue for once and for all. That is a prime piece of property. So much could be done with it.”

Donoghue said that he has been talking to Hagerstown Mayor David S. Gysberts about his plans for the bond bill.

Gysberts said Tuesday night that it’s important to get the state’s help on this “shovel-ready” project.

“Once we get that agreement finalized, everybody on this council has made it a priority,” he said. “I think it allows us to move forward with that. It helps us pay for it and also it helps us look at uses when we actually obtain the property.”

Gysberts said additional improvements will likely need to be made to the property as the city looks at ways to make it more accessible to the public, specifically in providing access to the Antietam Creek.

“I think that money will come in very handy,” he said. “And I really appreciate the work that Del. Donoghue is doing to put that bill forward.”

Bond bill hearings this session are scheduled for March 9 and March 11.

“It will be my job to stress to the appropriations committee that the need for this is important not just aesthetically, it is also important environmentally,” Donoghue said. “Many times you don’t get all that you want, sometimes they cut it back a bit but it never hurts to ask.”

Donoghue said talk of doing something with the plant has been ongoing since the late 1980s, when he was a city council member in Hagerstown.

The city has been in continued negotiations with Harshman and his demolition contractor, Bud Williams of Lycoming Supply in Williamsport, Pa., who is acting as the general contractor and coordinating efforts on the project.

Previously, the city offered to contribute $750,000 toward the demolition — $500,000 from unappropriated Capital Improvement Plan funds and $250,000 from an upcoming bond issue — to be paid when the project is complete and the land is cleaned up, according to city Director of Utilities Michael Spiker.

Pending the acquisition of state funds, Spiker said in an email Tuesday that the additional $250,000 could be worked into the upcoming bond issue, from a portion of funds received from the recent sale of the former U.S. Army Reserve property on Willard Street or from “a yet to be determined source.”

“The mayor and council must vote at a future regular session on the funding package and the settlement agreement,” Spiker said in the email.

Harshman and Williams have said previously that tentative contracts have been reached with subcontractors to handle the remediation of asbestos and water hazards inside the building, but they have yet to be finalized.

Considering all the contracts involved, including two for engineering services at the site near Municipal Stadium, the entire project is estimated to cost about $1.5 million “with cost uncertainty” due to the current status of remedial hazard contracts, general clean up work and the salvageable material inside, Spiker said, citing information provided by Harshman.

Harshman said previously he has been unable to nail down a firm cost figure for the water clean up because bids from subcontractors have come in using a cost-per-gallon pumped approach rather than a lump sum, making it difficult to determine a final cost to remove the “low-level” metal and oil contaminates inside the brick building.

Spiker went before the Hagerstown City Council on Jan. 15 to provide an update of negotiations.

He said in his email that city staff members have reviewed Harshman’s tentative agreements, and have prepared comments to be submitted in written form to the owner upon receipt of necessary documents.

According to a previous Herald-Mail report, a plan in the 1990s sought to turn the MELP plant into an energy provider by using fiber sludge from a nearby recycling facility.

But that plan didn’t work out.

“It has festered for years,” Donoghue said.

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