Memorial Hall Report to be Ready by February

BY: Cheryl Mattix, Cecil Whig (click for full story)

"PORT DEPOSIT — Bainbridge Development Corporation Chairman Michael R. Pugh said his board expects to see a final report on the damages and recommendations for the future of Memorial Hall in January or February.

Pugh called the Sept. 21 blaze that gutted the three-story historical building a “tragedy” during a BDC meeting on Monday night.

“It has complicated an already complicated issue,” Pugh said.

BDC members and Executive Director Donna Tapley were kept off the grounds until the Maryland State Fire Marshall’s Office completed their investigation in October, in which they ruled the fire an arson.

“The fire investigation delayed the assessment process for the BDC,” Pugh said, “But some progress has been made.”

One question they are trying to answer is whether the remaining building is salvageable, Pugh said.

A structural assessment of Memorial Hall has been completed, but Tapley still has to meet with the Maryland Historical Trust to determine short-term recommendations and they will need cost estimates.

“The cupola is gone, the roof collapsed, masonry walls are damaged and braced now and will get worse without some stop-gap measures,” Tapley said.

A draft report determined the building is at-risk by any unauthorized entrance and those who enter could be subject to injuries. The report recommends closing the building off.

Tapley said the entire 1,200 acre site has been fenced off for years, but people continue to get in without authorization.

“We plan to reveal all the findings and recommended next steps as soon as we get the final report,” Tapley said on Monday night.

Meanwhile, the turtle pace of the BDC’s negotiations with the U.S. Navy over the cleanup costs of current soil contamination found at Bainbridge in 2008 may be reaching a turning point in the next three months.

The Navy signed a deed of trust transferring the 1,200 acres to the BDC in February of 2000, deeming it suitable for transfer without development restrictions.

“We remain open to find another way to solve our problems,” Pugh said, indicating the BDC and the Navy are in the middle of a process right now that may yield some results in the first quarter of 2015.

“We expect a resolution of value of the site and damage to it,” he said, adding, “Then we’ll decide what direction to go,” leaving the door open to future litigation with the Navy.

In other business, by acclamation, the board re-elected Pugh to serve as chairman, Lisa Webb as vice chairman, Raymond “Chick” Hamm as treasurer and Cynthia Rossetti as assistant secretary.

Erin Maloney, a federal lobbyist who lives in Harford County, attended the BDC meeting Monday night. She suggested the BDC might be eligible for an EPA exemption because the property was once owned by the federal government.

“It could help you negotiate for a state exemption,” Maloney said.

Pugh said there remain other concerns.

“Even though this could be a loop hole, we also have the issue of public health concerns,” Pugh said.

In response, Maloney said: “I still think there is a possibility.”

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