Hampstead Town Council agreed last night to pursue legal action against the owner of the neighboring Sweetheart Cup property, because concerns about a berm - a mound of dirt - built over a municipal water main have not been addressed.
The extra soil could cause problems if town workers have to repair the section of pipe under the berm, said Hampstead Town Manager Kenneth Decker. The town doesn't have the excavation equipment - a backhoe and trench-shoring walls - to deal with pipe leaks so far below ground.
Carroll County said last fall it would help the town if a problem arose, but Decker questioned how quickly the county would respond if the pipe burst in the middle of the night.
"It's our responsibility, so we need to have the capacity to deal with it," he said.
Decker said last night the legal action tentatively would be against Sweetheart Cup and/or Capelli Enterprises Inc. of New York, which owns the property.
The town doesn't want Sweetheart Cup to remove the berm, which supports a fence and trees that partially shield views of the plant from houses across Houcksville Road.
"We've so far only asked them to help us purchase the equipment we need," Decker said.
A Sweetheart Cup representative declined to comment on the potential lawsuit.
Decker said company officials have relied on the county to moderate the dispute, a tactic he considers improper.
He said that the dispute is between Sweetheart and Hampstead and that the county has no responsibility for a municipal water line.
Sweetheart Cup and Hampstead have had a testy relationship since the company opened its 1-million-square-foot plant on the edge of town last year. In addition to the berm, Hampstead officials have complained about increased truck traffic and a 12,000-gallon fuel tank the plant will build above ground on its property.
Tax revenues from the huge plant make it a boon for the county, but Hampstead sees that money only indirectly.
Sweetheart Cup has caused direct problems, say residents and town officials .
The berm issue is clear-cut, Decker said. Hampstead owns the easement for the water main, and Sweetheart Cup has changed the topography of that land by adding at least 4 feet of extra soil.
"If we allow one group to infringe on our easement, then I guess we have to allow everyone to infringe on it," Decker said. "Setting that kind of negative precedent concerns me."