Council to study water protection in Perryman area


Tuesday night's County Council meeting will mark the reprise of a water-quality protection plan for the Perryman area first discussed almost a decade ago and still awaiting action, county officials say.

Robert S. Wagner, council president, said the council requested the work session, scheduled to start at 7 p.m. before the board's regular business meeting, because of concerns about water quality in Perryman.

The area in southern Harford sits along Aberdeen Proving Ground's western boundary and is home to the well field that is a supplier of the county's public drinking water.

The plan, called a wellhead protection program, would seek to ensure water quality by controlling development allowed in the well area.

"It's about 10 years old, and we haven't done anything with it. That's the truth of it," Wagner said.

He said the recent drought and discovery of another hazardous chemical in the wells have renewed interest in the plan, first brought up after the county's wells were found to contain traces of solvents and explosives in the early 1990s.

Perryman is also one of the county's designated growth areas, and with a land-use review and comprehensive rezoning coming up in the next two years, Wagner said, "It's time to go back and refresh and re-educate before you build or encroach too much on these wells."

Creating a wellhead protection plan is much more complex than just roping off an area around the wells and keeping people out.

The areas affecting the aquifer are great, and a multifaceted approach to protecting the wells is called for in a 1997 study, said Jackie Ludwig, a water and sewer engineer.

She said the plan calls for defining protection areas; inventorying the contaminants in the area; educating the public; and devising plans to manage and monitor the contaminants - and control them in an emergency.

"It's a highly complicated process," Ludwig said.

Cecelia Stepp, a Republican county councilwoman who represents the Perryman area, noted that steps to protect the wells - including a $2.2 million water treatment plant paid for by the Army - have been taken by the county, APG, and state and federal environmental officials since the discovery of solvents and explosives in some of the wells.

"Everyone knew [then] there had to be protection," Stepp said.

Wellhead protection plans have been in use for several decades in communities around the country. The plan for Perryman "has been talked about for years, though the average person might not know that," said Sue Rice, a community activist who sits on the boards of Aberdeen Proving Ground Superfund Citizens Coalition and Friends of Harford, two groups keenly interested in the wellhead plan.

A study requested by the Planning and Zoning Department in 1997, she said, laid out much of the groundwork for the Perryman plan.

Three areas of sensitivity around the wells were identified, she said, based on how quickly contaminants in each would reach the well's supply area, called the aquifer. "The study was fairly well-received and just sat on," Rice said.

Then, she said, the county came back about a year and a half ago with a proposal that she said the community groups felt allowed too much development in the aquifer recharge area, a sensitive land surface where rain or snow percolates into the ground water. "Obviously, we feel it should be well-protected," Rice said.

She said discussions between Industrial Realty Group LLC, a West Coast company that specializes in military base redevelopment, the City of Aberdeen and APG on public-private joint use of Phillips airfield, located on the proving ground, makes a protection program even more critical.

George Mercer, APG spokesman, said last week that APG was waiting to hear from the Pentagon whether a joint use plan might be explored. He noted that the airfield is next to an old fire training area that was the source of the solvent and explosives contamination found in the wells.

Mercer said he believes that any airfield joint-use plan would be influenced by wellhead protection stipulations. "We can't take any action out there without addressing environmental issues," he said.

Planning and zoning officials said last week that the time is right to revisit the wellhead protection plan.

Pat Pudelkewicz, the county department's chief of environmental planning, said the plan had to be put on hold several years ago as other issues in Perryman surfaced, such as evaluating wetlands, road needs and growth proposals in the area.

The county's wellhead plan introduced a year or so ago was "a very preliminary attempt to devise some type of regulations," said Janet Gleisner, a planning official who also works closely on environmental issues.

But now, with these other studies and plans completed, the county is in a better position to fit all these disparate pieces together, they said.

"It's important, and we wouldn't have pursued it if we didn't think there would be a benefit in the long run," Gleisner said.

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