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State order stalls plans

The Baltimore Sun

A state order requiring BBSS Inc. to clean up contaminated water found near its coal ash dump site in Gambrills has stalled a proposed shopping center expansion that would bring in a Target store.

The Village at Waugh Chapel South would be built off Route 3 on part of the 80-acre site where Baltimore Gas & Electric has been hauling its fly ash, a byproduct from its coal-fired power plants. The Anne Arundel County Health Department found unsafe levels of sulfates in nearby drinking wells last fall, leading the Maryland Department of the Environment last week to BBSS to address the problem or face a stiff penalty.

Neither the exact language nor the amount of the penalty will be released until after the two sides work out the details of the cleanup, expected within the next two months, said Robert Ballinger, a spokesman for MDE.

A spokesman for BBSS said yesterday that the order prevents dumping fly ash in new areas of the landfill, particularly a 10-acre section that would permit the shopping center to move forward as planned.

Once the section is filled, the area can be regraded and offered to potential tenants, said Jay Baldwin, president of Reliable Contracting. Some of Reliable's partners are part owners of BBSS.

He said the cancer-causing metals that have leached into the groundwater are not associated with fly ash. Sulfates, which are associated with fly ash, have not been shown to have significant health effects, he said. Nevertheless, BGE and BBSS have been taking bottled water to affected home sites.

"We're doing all we can to mitigate what happened," he said.

Baldwin and a consultant on the Waugh Chapel South project contended that building the shopping center over buried fly ash would benefit the community.

The asphalt parking lots and buildings would prevent water from seeping into the fly ash deposits and contaminating groundwater, said Barbara Cook, a principal with Geo Environmental Group in Silver Spring,

Cook also worked as an engineering consultant to Constellation Energy, which owns BGE, in the 1980s when the Brandon Woods Business Park in north county was built over a fly ash landfill. She said engineers took precautions to prevent groundwater contamination during construction. The fly ash was compacted regularly to prevent water from soaking into it, and sediment control ponds and fencing prevented rainwater from washing away soil and spreading fly ash, Cook said. Clay caps were installed under landscaped areas. Regular testing has not shown any groundwater contamination at the Brandon Woods park, she said.

But the contaminated water in Gambrills has riled the Greater Crofton Council, an umbrella association of neighborhood groups, which last night was expected to call on the county to halt development in the area for five years to allow time for it to be cleaned up. The measure also would express support for County Executive John R. Leopold's call to stop dumping fly ash in Anne Arundel County.

Leopold said that he planned to introduce his legislation on Monday and was glad that the council recognized the seriousness of the issue, but he could not comment on the council's proposal for a moratorium.

"I'm not going to take a position on something that I haven't read or reviewed," he said.

Officials with Greenberg Development, which will build the plaza expansion, said yesterday they were unaware of the proposal to ban development, said Kim Potember, Greenberg's senior vice president and director of development.

The developer is close to signing leases with Target and Wegmans, both for 140,000-square-foot stores; the project also includes a movie theater and 220 condominiums. Only the condos would not be built over the fly ash site. Construction is expected to start in late 2008 or early 2009 with the first stores opening in 2010.

The Greater Crofton Council opposes the arrival of so-called big-box stores because the state has not made enough improvements to Route 3 to handle the influx of traffic that would be brought to the area, Jacobsen said.

Jacobsen opposes the shopping center development because of health concerns about sulfates leaching into the groundwater.

"This is a major, major problem for the greater Crofton area," Jacobsen said.

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