Thursday, February 21, 2013
Paul Gordon: Detrick area project approved despite water safety concerns
On Feb. 11, the Frederick Planning Commission approved a request for changes to the master plan for the Waverly View Planned Neighborhood.
The project, located north and south of Shookstown Road, calls for the construction of 730 houses on 90 acres near Fort Detrick, either contiguous or across from the infamous Area B.
In 2009, Area B was named a Super Fund site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, considered potentially dangerous to human health and the environment. The EPA also required additional measures for cleanup before development could advance, along with special supervision.
At last week’s hearing, the lawyer for the developer said his office had received permission from the Maryland Department of the Environment to proceed with the project, and that the company had responded to the EPA’s concerns…
Planning commission member Rick Stup said “our hands are tied,” preventing the panel from denying the developer’s request.
Two residents who testified at the hearing, Jennifer Peppe Hahn of the Fort Detrick Restoration Advisory Board and Susan Funk of the Kristen Renee Foundation, vigorously protested that the safety of citizens comes first, and the commission was failing in its duty to accept responsibility.
Having battled two cancers, Hahn said: “This is not about politics or a developer’s rights.” It is about protecting “future health needs of the community.”
The developer insisted that the property had been tested, but a letter from the EPA to the developer indicated the agency’s dissatisfaction.
The development company was given one week to respond, with the EPA saying it wanted access to the development site to drill wells and complete groundwater testing to understand “the nature and extent of contamination migrating from the Fort Detrick Area B Superfund site.”
The letter indicated that the Army has often requested access to the property for two years but has been denied.
The Superfund’s EPA Region 3 website, which relates the history of Area B, reports no pollution of drinking water caused by runoff at this time. But officials have found groundwater from four sources indicating contamination by TCE and PCE, two cancer-causing solvents used in dry cleaning.
The EPA indicated it is developing a conceptual site model related to karst or limestone formations in Area B, with sampling to have occurred between 2011 and 2013. And it is doing a study to “evaluate potential for vapor intrusion associated with contaminant plume migration off Area B.”
The EPA also has done initial sampling and analysis of Agent Orange, a cancer-causing pesticide, at Area B, with a draft report due by early 2013, the website said.
A Fort Detrick contractor said two weeks ago that he wanted to do more testing of groundwater “in and around” Area B because TCE was found at five points in Carroll Creek up to Baker Park during recent testing.
Although the quantities are below federal drinking water standards, the EPA is concerned about Area B near the proposed Waverly View project, where the highest levels of groundwater contamination were found. But they are unable to do the testing.
The most compelling reason to postpone permission to develop near Fort Detrick is that the EPA is about to release updated toxicity information for PCE and TCE and rules for cleanup of “two of the most prevalent and difficult to remediate contaminants affecting soil, groundwater and indoor air.”
All of which strongly suggests that any development near Fort Detrick may have new standards relating to soil contamination. To deny such development before the EPA testing has been completed and new rules are imposed is within the planning commission’s authority. Federal and state environmental laws supersede local law.
Paul Gordon, a local historian, was mayor of Frederick from 1990 to 1994. Reach him at email@example.com.