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Jarrettsville resident Carol Nau was one of four people who addressed the Harford County Council on Tuesday regarding the planned Abingdon Business Park warehouse project. Nau and her cohorts urged council members to take action to preserve the wooded site.
Jarrettsville resident Carol Nau was one of four people who addressed the Harford County Council on Tuesday regarding the planned Abingdon Business Park warehouse project. Nau and her cohorts urged council members to take action to preserve the wooded site. (David Anderson/The Aegis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Abingdon resident Lakshmi Tadepalli asked members of the Harford County Council a simple question about the Abingdon Business Park warehouse development: “Why are we doing this?”

Tadepalli was one of four Harford County citizens who took council members to task about Abingdon Business Park during the council’s legislative session Tuesday evening. The planned commercial, retail and warehouse park, which comprises more than 2 million square feet over multiple buildings, is slated for a 326-acre wooded tract near the Route 24/I-95 interchange.

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It is in close proximity to residential subdivisions, houses of worship, William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary School and highways and thoroughfares that already have heavy traffic such as I-95, Route 24, Route 7 and Abingdon Road.

There has been a large community outcry about the project since a community input meeting happened in January in the Abingdon Fire Company’s main station on Abingdon Road. Several protests have been held near the site and in downtown Bel Air — the women who spoke at the end of Tuesday’s council meeting were part of a small group that held a protest before the meeting outside the council chambers at Churchville Road and South Bond Street.

Some participants held signs comparing the risks of the warehouse project to the deadly Bhopal disaster, and noted the protest was held, in part, to mark the 35th anniversary of when thousands of people in Bhopal, India died from a chemical leak at a Union Carbide pesticide plant in the area in early December of 1984.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Tadepalli read part of her poem, “Selfless Trees, Ungrateful Humans.”

“Trees are invaluable and precious/And yet fools that we humans are, we devalue them in an instant/And chop down to call ‘TIMBER-R-R’ and build warehouses,” she recited.

She urged the council to grant citizen opponents additional time to find an alternate use for the property, noting there are 22 warehouses with space available in Harford County.

“Jobs were created, jobs were lost,” Tadepalli said of previous warehouse developments. “Money is not staying; once you cut these 100-year-old trees, or even beyond [100 years], there is no recovering them.

“So, my question is, why are we doing this?” she asked. “There is no benefit that will justify this.”

Speaker Carol Nau, of Jarrettsville, urged council members to work with Maryland Department of the Environment officials to obtain a detailed justification for building on the current site, with its woods and wetlands, beyond previous statements that it will bring jobs to Harford County.

“It is not sufficient to say it will create jobs,” Nau said. “Jobs can be created on Route 40 — there is plenty of development space that is available.”

She wondered, addressing the council members: “is there some kind of financial reason you aren’t standing up for the county residents?”

Tracey Waite, president of the nonprofit Harford County Climate Action, identified thousands of dollars of campaign contributions made in recent years to County Executive Barry Glassman, as well as Council President Patrick Vincenti and Councilmen Joe Woods and Chad Shrodes by the property owner, developer and engineering firm working on Abingdon Business Park.

She noted the engineering and planning firm Morris & Ritchie Associates, which has an office in Abingdon, contributed more than $45,000 to Harford County politicians over a decade, as of 2017.

“We hope that the campaign contributions are not playing any role in your support of the Abingdon Business Park proposal,” Waite told council members.

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She encouraged the council to contact property owner Tom Huber, of the Harford Investors group, and developer James Lighthizer, of Chesapeake Real Estate Group, and work with them to grant permission to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, allowing their staff to get access to the site and “assess its value for possible purchase, in part using state funds.”

“At least let us explore raising enough funds to buy the property and preserve it as a park and recreation area for the citizens,” Waite said.

Abingdon resident Nancy Post, who lives near the business park site, noted the meeting’s opening prayer, led by Councilman Tony Giangiordano.

“I don’t see synergy with the words of a prayer and the profiting from destroying God’s creation,” Post said. “Many of us here are to defend God’s creation from the destruction of human hands and greed.”

Some members of the community have protested against building the warehouses on the basis of preventing impacts from climate change.

“The clock is ticking, and I don’t think you want to hand that down to your 10-year-old daughter,” Post told Shrodes, who had announced earlier in the meeting that his daughter’s 10th birthday would be Wednesday.

Post noted that, “on average,” one acre of forest can sequester about 2.5 tons of carbon per year, meaning the nearly 330 acres of woods can store about 825 tons of carbon a year.

“We need to plant more trees, not cut them down,” she said.

She also provided details on the monetary value of preserving trees, noting that one tree can generate $162,500 of value in terms of generating oxygen, providing air pollution control, recycling water and preventing soil erosion over a 50-year lifespan.

“Let’s assume a conservative estimate of 100 trees per acre, calculating for 330 acres of trees, leads to a financial benefit of at least $5.4 billion over 50 years,” Post said.

On the reverse side, those 330 acres of woods could only hold the carbon dioxide generated by less than 20 trucks and passenger vehicles.

“Each acre of trees is a valuable resource,” Post said. “We must see past tomorrow and plan for the next decade and thereafter. Short-sightedness, greed, ignoring reality, etc. is killing us.”

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