Man's Well Remains Unsealed

February 03, 1991|By Maria Archangelo | Maria Archangelo,Staff writer

Willis Cissel may have won the battle to leave his well unsealed, but Carroll health officials say he probably won't win the war.

Cissel, 83, of Woodbine, was charged by the Carroll County Health Department with failing to seal a hand-dug well on property he owns in Taneytown.

Health officials and the Carroll State's Attorney's Office took Cissel to court Thursday to ask District Judge Donald M. Smith to order him to seal his well. Health officials say it could contaminate ground water.

Cissel, who said he was being represented in court "by the Lord," wants to preserve the well that dates to the early 1800s as a historic site. Cissel has erected signs on his property and even a mock gravesite to get his point across.

After hearing only the state's side of the case, Smith decided there wasn't enough evidence and dismissed the case.

But the saga of the unsealed well probably will continue, said Charles Zeleski, assistant director of environmental health.

Zeleski said state law allows his department to deal with such situations through the State's Attorney's Office and county health officers, or through the Department of the Environment.

Those options include civil law suits and additional criminal charges, he said.

"Right now we're reviewing our options to see what our next move is," said Zeleski.

The battle between Cissel and officials began in August 1988 when the tenant on Cissel's property on Old Taneytown Pike asked the Department of Environmental Health to sample herdrinking water because it smelled.

Richard Isaac, director of environmental health, testified that a technician who went to Cissel's home refused to take the sample because the "well was not in a protected condition and the sample would be unreliable."

In September 1988, Cissel contacted Isaac's department about drilling a new well to get clean water for his tenants, Isaac said.

Cissel was allowed to drill the new well, but the permit also stipulated that the hand-dug well be "sealed and abandoned," Isaac said.

No one from Isaac's department inspected the new well or checked to make sure the old well was sealed because it is the owner's responsibility to tell the department when work is completed, Isaac said.

In February 1990, the department discovered Cissel had hooked a pump up to the old well afterthe new well's pump broke down.

The department issued Cissel an order to seal the old well within 25 days, Isaac told the court.

Cissel fixed the new well and provided bottled water to his tenants after being contacted by the department.

After Cissel came to visit Isaac in March 1990 and the director went out to the property to see the well for himself, Isaac gave Cissel 25 more days to seal the well.

During cross-examination, Cissel asked Isaac why it took so long for officials to investigate his well.

"Where were you all of thattime -- fishing?" Cissel asked.

Cissel, who was described by his daughter as a "tiger," seemed dismayed by the judge's decision to dismiss the case.

While his family and friends tried to explain that he won in court, Cissel seemed worried that he didn't get to tell hisside.

But, Cissel said after the hearing, he is ready for the county's next move.

"I'm ready for anything," he said. "The Lord is my chief counsel."

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