HAMPSTEAD — At the Sept. 26 Hampstead Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, town residents and some nearby Carroll County neighbors largely rejected developers’ attempts to ease community concern about its plans for a once-agricultural property.
Many asked environmentally and scientifically specific questions. In response to many of the questions, those representing Florida Rock Properties Inc. — the company hoping to build a community dubbed “Hampstead Overlook” on what was once a polluted farm — said, as businessmen, they didn’t have the requisite expertise to accurately answer.
In response, the audience sent a clear message: Find us the people who can. So the town and developers agreed to bring in experts for the next meeting.
And when the public arrived for the Wednesday, Oct. 24, meeting, they were greeted by three Maryland Department of the Environment specialists and personnel from Geo-Technology Associates Inc. — the company that Florida Rock employed to perform myriad environmental tests.
MDE toxicologist Mark Mank, who assesses and reviews the potential impacts, and oftentimes mandatory cleanups, of hazardous land pollutants, spent the better part of the two-hour meeting explaining the ins and outs of the state agency’s findings based on extensive on-site sampling.
Traces of arsenic and volatile organic compounds known as TCE and PCE — cleaning products for degreasers — were found on the estate.
“[The property] is safe for everybody,” Mank told the Times following the meeting. “People may disagree with, or not believe, me in that process, but the [pollutant] levels are inherently safe and very conservative to be protective of everybody.”
Despite Mank’s scientific expertise, some residents weren’t convinced.
Randy Wilkerson of Castle Farms, a development just outside Hampstead town limits, questioned why arsenic was discovered at multiple sites across the 100-plus-acre property.
“There’s no reason for arsenic to be on that side and that side, unless one went to the other,” said Wilkerson, who told the Times he worked in the medical field. “You can’t make me believe any different from that.”
Two areas on the property yielded arsenic levels that are higher than what the state deems acceptable. The pollutants in those areas will be capped by a geo-tech membrane and 2 to 3 feet of clean soil on top. The area is then considered safe for recreational use, but not for a home to be built.
Brittany Phillips, who grew up on what was then the Leister Family Farm, probed Mank about the groundwater testing process. “How deep did you test the very first time you tested for TCE and PCE?” she asked.
Seeing as though the state agency did not perform the tests, Mank deferred to Benjamin Meyers of Geo-Technology Associates.
“We did a shallow and a deep,” Meyers said, “and both of them had PCE.”
The environmental consultants dug wells of 30 feet and 130 feet, right where they hit bedrock, added Barbara Brocks, MDE’s project manager for Hampstead Overlook.
Town officials, and Florida Rock representatives at the Sept. 26 meeting, emphasized that the development will not tap into the groundwater or a stream that cuts across the property. The development will connect to the town water supply — which is treated, tested and regulated.
Members of the audience approached the centrally located microphone one at a time, questioning the toxicology expert like an attorney cross-examining a witness in court. Some even disputed the expert’s motivation.
“It doesn’t matter to you because you don’t live here,” resident Joseph Burley told Mank.
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“We have delegated authority to protect public health, which is you and everybody else,” Mank responded. “There are rules that the state follows to protect all citizens.”