In 1889, steel operations began at Sparrows Point, a 3,100 acre waterfront site in Baltimore County, MD. By the mid-20th century, Sparrows Point was home to the world’s largest steel mill – Bethlehem Steel, producing 600,000 tons of steel per year and employing 32,000 workers at its peak. Steel production at Sparrows Point has a rich history, having played a critical role in war production during World War I and World War II, and manufacturing steel for the Golden Gate Bridge and the George Washington Bridge. The site also holds deep sentimental value for families in Baltimore and surrounding areas, as the mill employed hundreds of thousands of workers throughout the years.
But in 2012, steel production came to a grinding halt as poor market conditions forced RG Steel – the current operator at that time – to stop production and close the doors. The economic impact of the shutdown included the loss of 2,000 jobs and created a massive, blighted urban area generating very low tax revenue and no jobs.
Compounding local frustration, were the legacy environmental problems from over 125 years of steel manufacturing. In bankruptcy court documents, Baltimore County attorneys called Sparrows Point, “the most complex environmental cleanup site in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.” What was once a robust economic engine for the northeast United States, was at risk of becoming the largest brownfield site in American history.
A year after closing the doors at Sparrows Point, RG Steel filed for bankruptcy.
Initially, RG Steel sought a buyer that would use the existing infrastructure to continue steel production. However, when no such bids were offered, Sparrows Point was at further risk of prolonged blight and decay.
Solution: Environmental Liability Transfer
Environmental Liability Transfer, Inc. (ELT) and liquidator Hilco Trading, then agreed to purchase the site for $72.5 million USD from the bankruptcy estate. As a condition of the sale, ELT agreed with federal and state regulators to assume specified legacy environmental liabilities associated with the site.
As a condition of the assumption of environmental liabilities, Sparrows Point, LLC (ELT’s acquiring affiliate) entered into and signed Consent Orders with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) and Maryland Department of the Environmental (MDE), which made Sparrows Point, LLC the new Responsible Party. Sparrows Point, LLC then placed $48 million USD into a remedial trust to serve as financial assurance for the remedial work ahead.
Following the transaction, ELT commissioned EnviroAnalytics Group LLC (EAG) to assist in the large-scale environmental remediation of the site’s legacy contamination which includes the treatment of oil and groundwater impacted by 125 years of steel making and finishing operations.
EAG is currently working to reopen distinct areas of the site in accordance with the regulatory standards set by the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) and EPA Region 3. EAG is on track to comply with the agreed timelines, and is preparing the site for large-scale vertical development.
Ongoing remedial activities include: groundwater capture and treatment, in situ soil treatments, groundwater studies, vapor intrusion studies, multiple landfill closures, and continual environmental and risk assessments.
Results: Sustainable Redevelopment
Sparrows Point is now on a pathway towards redevelopment. Poor market conditions in the steel industry resulted in an unused, contaminated area in Baltimore – a temporary recession for the local community. Today, with an ELT, the potential economic benefit could be greater than before.
Following the ELT purchase of Sparrows Point, the Baltimore Sun published the following in an article entitled “Hope for Sparrows Point”:
Nearly one year after RG Steel filed for bankruptcy, the outlook for the 3,300-acre property is significantly brighter. The potential for redevelopment could yield as many as 10,000 jobs within 10-15 years as new businesses – particularly those related to the Port of Baltimore – take the place of steelmaking.