Developer wants lawsuit filed by Harford families dismissed Residents claim builder didn't reveal their homes were near disposal site


Harford County developer Robert C. Ward is seeking the dismissal of a $10 million lawsuit filed by 11 Edgewood families who claim he failed to tell them they were buying houses close to chemical weapons disposal sites.

In documents filed Friday in Harford County Circuit Court, Mr. Ward, one of the county's best-known homebuilders, called the suit "ill conceived and baseless." No hearing date has been set.

Mr. Ward said he, like the buyers in his Otter Creek Landing development, was not aware of the contamination at the Nike site, a former chemical weapons training and testing area on Aberdeen Proving Ground. The proving ground has been a chemical weapons testing and research center for the U.S. military since 1917.

Responding to the suit, Mr. Ward's lawyers said in court papers: "This case involves the exploitation and abusive claim by a few opportunistic buyers who brazenly contend that they did not know that Aberdeen Proving Ground was a military weapons test and storage site when they purchased their homes." That claim is "nothing short of preposterous," the documents said.

Records show that the Nike site was a major testing and training ground for the Army's Chemical School from 1920 to 1951.

The plaintiffs allege that Mr. Ward deliberately withheld his knowledge of the contamination, but Mr. Ward said he was not aware of it until a series of articles in The Sun in March and April.

Although Mr. Ward claims ignorance of the Nike site contamination, information about the existence of unexploded chemical shells and other waste there has been in Army reports dating to 1976.

Any shell remaining on the Nike site probably contains phosgene, a lethal gas, and mustard agent, a potent liquid that blisters the skin and lungs, the Army said.

After discussions with Harford officials, Mr. Ward agreed in November 1993 to honor a three-page memorandum of understanding recommending -- but not requiring -- that his company disclose information about chemical weapons at the proving ground.

Mr. Ward acknowledged in the documents filed Friday, as he has before, that he mistakenly failed to make the disclosure of general contamination at the proving ground in the sales contracts.

In addition to seeking millions of dollars in damages, the families want Mr. Ward to buy back their houses at no loss to them or move them to another development.

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