The town's water supply is caught in the undercurrent as Black & Decker U.S. Inc. and the owners of the Roberts Field Shopping Center tryto iron out legal responsibility for possible water contamination.

Hampstead may have to stop pumping water out of two of its 12 working wells unless the shopping center agrees to allow two monitoring wells on its property.

The wells would be designed to detect any contamination from the nearby Black & Decker plant before it reaches drinking water supplies. The shopping center is on Route 30, between the factory and the town wells.

Black & Decker is developing a plan to clean contaminatedground water found on its property seven years ago. The contamination has been traced to industrial solvents, such as tetrachlorethane, which probably leaked from an underground storage tank, said Maryland Department of the Environment spokesman John Goheen.

Although the town wells are not contaminated now, the chemicals from Black & Decker could flow toward them, said Kenward McKinney, chief of the Water Appropriations Permits Section of the state Department of Natural Resources.

"We've been asked by the Department of Natural Resources toinstall two wells in the Roberts Field Business Center, and we want to," said Linda Biagioni, environmental affairs director for Black & Decker. "But the (owners of the center) are refusing us access to drill those wells."

Biagioni said Black & Decker is willing to sign an agreement to clean any contamination that shows up in the monitoring wells which can be directly attributed to contamination on the factory's property.

And that's pretty much what McGill Development Corp., the major partner in Roberts Field, wants, said Chairman Christopher Kurz. But the legal language hasn't been worked out, he said. Kurz also said he wants protection from Black & Decker in case the townever sues the center for water contamination from the factory, but Biagioni said such an agreement could be too sweeping.

"We'd like to be in cooperation, but we have to make sure we don't jeopardize ourinvestment or put ourselves at risk for something we're not responsible for," Kurz said.

At Town Manager John A. Riley's suggestion, Black & Decker's lawyer is drawing up an agreement for review by McGill's lawyer, and they'll go from there, Kurz said.

Hampstead doesn't rely greatly on the wells and pumps only about 14,000 gallons a dayfrom them, but they're needed for any future growth in the Roberts Field area, Riley said.

If the town can't use the wells, it must say no to new businesses there and reduce the number of homes allowed in the nearby residential development, Riley said.

He said forcing McGill to allow the wells -- if there is a way to do it -- would require the time and expense of litigation.

"The best way is to work it out with all the parties involved," Riley


Kurz, who haseight more stores negotiating to lease space in the new center, agreed that McGill has an interest in keeping the town wells in use.

Black & Decker and the MDE are close to finalizing a plan to start thecleanup this summer, but the process could take years, McKinney said.

He said he will require setting up the two monitoring wells if the town is to continue using its wells near Roberts Field.

But even then, McKinney said he would approve use of only one of the town wells, using the one closest to the contamination as another monitoringwell. Having only one, or even two monitoring wells may not detect contaminants, McKinney said.

"If you err, you want to err on the side of caution," he said.

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