Savage quarry quandary Howard County: Hazardous quarry poses tough questions for county officials.


AS EXQUISITE as it is, the Rouse Co.'s quarry in Savage ought to give Howard County officials pause as they consider whether to convert the site into parkland. Rouse officials have offered to turn the property over to the county so it can become an extension of Savage Park. But there's a major problem: The pristine lake in the middle of the quarry may be treacherous because of its deep waters and frigid temperatures.

How deep is it? Three hundred feet, and rising about five feet a year. That would not be such a problem except that the geology of the lake makes for some very cold water; as high as 70 degrees on the surface but a bone-chilling 40 degrees farther down, enough to startle and incapacitate an unsuspecting person.

Officials should derive little comfort from the fact that only one drowning has occurred at the site, 23 years ago. In recent years, the Rouse Co. has kept the property fenced and guarded in an effort to keep people away from the property. The county nonetheless prosecutes between 100 and 150 people a year for trespassing.

Small wonder the Rouse Co. wants to dispose of this potential liability. David E. Forrester, a Rouse vice president, may be right that the company can allow a scenic office-complex to be built around the site. But unless the lake is completely surrounded, the danger and responsibility remains the same. Solving the biggest problem -- the water's depth -- is close to impossible. Filling in the lake so that it's not as deep would not only pose astronomical costs; experts also insist it isn't feasible because the lake is dug into the water table. Other lakes in the county are off limits to swimmers, and incidents are rare. Yet the publicity surrounding the Savage quarry might encourage lawsuits in the event an accident does occur.

County officials are going to have to think long and hard about this one. Even now, teen-agers come onto the property and dive into the lake from one of its cliffs. What will happen if the public has free access to the lake?

A cost factor is also involved. Rouse hasn't offered to give the land to the county; nor has a price been set for it. This and other matters will have to be carefully considered before the county agrees to any deal.

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