Site preparation work on the wooded Abingdon property slated for the Abingdon Business Park commercial and warehouse development has been stopped, under an order from Harford County after county officials received citizen complaints about trees being cleared and the ground disturbed.
The county issued a written “stop work order” on Dec. 6 after county environmental inspectors, along with Maryland Department of the Environment staff visited the site in response to the citizen complaints, according to an email sent by Joseph Siemek, county director of public works, to the complainants. Cindy Mumby, spokesperson for the county government, provided a copy of Siemek’s email to The Aegis.
“Whenever we get a complaint, we investigate it,” Mumby said Tuesday morning.
Developers plan to build more than 2 million square feet of warehouse space, as well as additional commercial and retail structures, on nine lots within the 326-acre property near the Route 24/I-95 interchange. The tract is currently wooded and has wetlands, and the Haha Branch stream runs through it.
A number of people, including residents of adjacent subdivisions, have protested the project since it was presented to the community in January, as they fear it will harm the environment, create air, light and noise pollution for nearby residents and bring additional traffic to already heavily-used roads and highways.
Susan Beckwell, of the Medley Estates community along Route 7, described the “horrible and sickening” things she saw Dec. 4 while walking through the woods and along the Haha Branch on the Abingdon Business Park property. Beckwell said, in an email to The Aegis, that she saw large trees that had been cut down and smaller trees lying on the ground with “multiple cuts” in their bark.
Beckwell, who provided photos of areas where trees had been cut and cleared, also reported seeing trees along the stream bank that had been knocked down and across the water. She reported marks left by bulldozers along the road and along the stream and provided photos of the disturbed ground.
“Large amounts of dirt has been disturbed, and I could see evidence of erosion already happening,” she wrote in her email.
Beckwell, who walked the property after another resident reported seeing a bulldozer there before Thanksgiving, relayed her findings to Harford County officials and was told developers had been taking soil samples on the property, according to her email.
Siemek, in his email to complainants, confirmed that a “geotechnical engineering consultant” had been performing the tree-cutting and clearing work for “soil borings as part of the site design for the proposed project.”
That work was being done without proper county permits for erosion and sediment control, however, and the county issued the stop work order “with concurrence” from the MDE, according to Siemek. The property owner, project engineer and consultant were required to comply with permit requirements and “immediately stabilize all disturbed areas with acceptable sediment and erosion control measures,” according to his email.
The developer is also seeking MDE approval of a nontidal wetlands permit, and officials from that agency would determine if there had been any violations related to that pending permit.
“We will regularly monitor the site for compliance with the Stop Work Order and other environmental permit requirements,” Siemek wrote.
The order remains in effect as of Tuesday; the developers must repair the ground that was disturbed and then apply for the proper permit, according to Mumby. She said the county conducts regular monitoring once a permit is issued to ensure that the work covered under that permit is being done properly.
“In this case, a permit had not been issued, but we were alerted that there was activity on the site by a citizen, and we immediately followed up on the site and then issued the stop work order,” Mumby said.
A grading and sediment control permit is required if a developer wants to disturb more than 5,000 square feet of ground, according to Mumby. A inspection schedule is established once a permit is issued, and it “would not be unusual” to conduct inspections once a week on large projects — inspections might happen more frequently if it is determined that the applicant is not performing work in the manner required by the permit, Mumby said.
“If a permit hasn’t been applied for or issued, we wouldn’t have a basis for sending inspectors out on private property unless we receive a complaint, or we otherwise find it about it,” Mumby said.
County officials do follow up on “each and every” complaint they receive, according to Mumby.
“If there is a violation we will take the necessary steps to ensure compliance which we did in this case [of Abingdon Business Park],” she said.
People can call the county’s Division of Citizens Affairs if they have a complaint at 410-638-3420, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Autumn Run resident Beth Shepard, whose community is adjacent to one of the warehouse lots, also reported the unpermitted work to the county after walking through the woods near her subdivision.
She said Tuesday that other residents reported noise and heavy equipment in the woods, and she checked things out. Shepard lamented that it took citizen filing complaints and sending photos to prompt the county to investigate.
“I think the county should have sent someone to check behind [developers] before residents and others investigated,” she said via text message.
Shepard said she is glad the stop work order was issued and that she hopes the MDE “keeps a close eye” on the work going forward.
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“The developer thinks that they can just do anything they want, as if its been approved,” she stated.